AFP - Venezuelan lawmakers Thursday kick off the first of two debates on President Hugo Chavez's proposal for unlimited reelections he hopes will leave him in power long enough to carry out his socialist revolution.
The amendment to the constitution that was already reformed after Chavez came to power in 1998 to allow him to run once for reelection -- in 2006, which he won -- needs to be approved by the National Assembly and then pass in a referendum next year.
The proposal, presented in the legislature last week by 146 of its 167 members, is Chavez's second attempt at keeping himself in power, after a similar measure was rejected by plebiscite a year ago, giving Chavez his first major political defeat.
This time around, the amendment is assured passage in parliament since it is dominated by Chavez's ruling United Socialist party (PSUV), after all opposition members shut themselves out of the Assembly when they boycotted the 2005 legislative elections.
How it will fare in next year's referendum, however, is an open question, despite an all-out campaign by Chavez to convince Venezuelans that his socialist agenda is in their best interest and can only be carried out fully if he remains in power.
"Having one person with the same concept is a much better guarantee the project will continue, than if a different person comes in even if he/she hails from the same political party," Education Minister Hector Navarro said Wednesday.
With steadily high popularity rating of more than 50 percent, Chavez has already promised to be a contender in the 2012 presidential election if the constitutional amendment is passed.
For added success, Chavez has asked his followers to gather millions of signatures in a symbolic effort of support for the measure. He was first to sign the list Wednesday in a public act at central Simon Bolivar Square.
On Thursday, thousands of people are expected to converge before the National Assembly to present the signatures to lawmakers, who have announced they will forgo their end-of-year break to promote public debate on the constitutional amendment.
Meanwhile, opposition parties have set up a pressure group to convince Venezuelans to reject the measure, calling their movement "Angostura," after a speech by Venezuelan founding father Bolivar warning of the dangers of unlimited political power.
And university students, who were very vocal in rejecting the constitutional amendment in last year's referendum, have announced more demonstrations and actions against Chavez's new bid for unlimited reelection.