CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela's National Assembly on Thursday began considering a proposal for a referendum on abolishing term limits, which could let President Hugo Chavez run for re-election indefinitely.
Lawmakers are expected to approve plans for the vote after a second and final debate next month. Election officials say the referendum could be held in March.
Click here to see photos from a Chavez term limit rally.
Discussing the issue for the first time, legislators in the predominantly pro-Chavez National Assembly at one point broke into chants of "Ooh, aah, Chavez will not go."
Outside, a crowd of the president's backers waved flags and turned in boxes of petitions in support of the vote.
Government officials said 4.7 million signatures had been collected. Opponents have noted, however, that the signatures are not expected to be independently verified by electoral officials.
The petition drive is largely symbolic because lawmakers have the power to approve the referendum on their own.
Chavez, who was first elected in 1998, is constitutionally barred from seeking re-election in 2012. Venezuelans handed Chavez his first defeat at the polls last year when they rejected a package of constitutional reforms including an end to presidential term limits.