[JURIST] Thousands of Venezuelans gathered Saturday in Caracas and other cities to protest a proposed constitutional amendment [text, in Spanish] that would eliminate presidential term limits in the country. The amendment, which would allow President Hugo Chavez [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to seek re-election in 2012, was passed [JURIST report] by the Venezuelan National Assembly [official website, in Spanish] last month, but must be approved in a national referendum on February 15 before taking effect. Both the protesters and opposition politicians have accused Chavez [JURIST report] of using the constitutional reforms to consolidate his power. There have also been reports that Chavez's government has been using increasingly harsh tactics [IHT report] to quiet student and other groups opposing the amendment. A similar amendment was among constitutional reforms rejected by voters [JURIST report] in a 2007 referendum, but a January poll by Datanalisis [corporate website] showed that a small majority of likely voters now favor the amendment.
Venezuelans who favor eliminating term limits have been equally vocal, and in December a petition signed by almost five million people [JURIST report] endorsing the amendment was given to the National Assembly. Trying to distinguish the current amendment from his failed 2007 effort, Chavez has acknowledged that the earlier reforms, which would have allowed him to stand indefinitely for re-election, handpick local leaders under a new political map, create new types of communal property, and to suspend civil liberties during states of emergency, were "quite profound and intense," and may have been too ambitious.