CARACAS, Venezuela – President Hugo Chavez asked supporters Sunday to petition for a constitutional amendment that would let him seek indefinite re-election and buy more time to build a socialist economy in Venezuela.
Chavez, who was first elected in 1998, is barred from running again when his current term expires in 2013. He sought to abolish term limits last year, but Venezuelan voters rejected the bid, voting down a package of proposed constitutional changes.
"Last year, when we lost the referendum, I said I should accept the majority's decision," the former paratroop commander told a crowd of red-clad government supporters at a rally in Caracas. But now, he added, "I say you were right: Chavez will not go."
Any new attempt at a reform, which must be approved in a nationwide referendum, would open a new front for tensions between government-backers and their rivals — many of whom warn that Chavez wants to be president for life.
Opposition leader Gerardo Blyde said Chavez's plan to end presidential term limits would be overwhelmingly defeated.
"It's going to be an uphill battle for him," said Blyde, who suggested that many Chavistas are losing faith in "El Comandante" as his government struggles to curb 36 percent annual inflation in Caracas, fight rampant crime and rebuild crumbling infrastructure.
Neighboring Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, meanwhile, recalled his top diplomat in Maracaibo, Venezuela's second largest city, hours after Chavez threatened to expel the official for privately praising the opposition for winning five governoships and two important mayor's office in elections in Venezuela last week.
In a clandestinely record private telephone conversation, Consul Carlos Galvis called the opposition's gains "very good news." The recording was broadcast on state television.
Galvis lamented that Venezuela's state security forces were apparently eavesdropping on him, calling it a "violation of one of my fundamental rights, the right to privacy."
But the consul also told Bogota-based RCN television that a Venezuelan journalist had "cloned" mobile and fixed telephones at the consulate, suggesting that someone else may have made the phone call pretending to be him.