Venezuela Lawmakers Say Chavez Can Run Forever, Final Step Before Referendum

Venezuelan lawmakers on Wednesday approved amendments to the constitution that would allow President Hugo Chavez to run for re-election indefinitely, the final step before the proposal goes before voters in a referendum.

Allies of Chavez, who hold a strong majority within the 167-seat National Assembly, overwhelmingly voted in favor of lifting term limits for all elected officials. Six lawmakers voted against the proposal while five abstained.

Click here to see photos from a Chavez term limit rally.

Election officials have yet to set a date for the referendum.

Chavez, who was first elected in 1998, is barred under the constitution from seeking re-election in 2012.

It is socialist leader's second bid to amend the charter to run for office again. Last year, voters rejected a package of reforms that would have scrapped presidential term limits, among other proposed changes.

Luis Tascon of "New Revolutionary Road," a splinter pro-Chavez party, said he voted in favor of the proposed referendum because a suitable successor to Chavez has not emerged within the "Bolivarian Revolution," a political movement named after 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar.

"Given that reality, I'll stay with Chavez," Tascon said.

Juan Molina, one of the assembly's few opposition-sided lawmakers, called the proposal to lift term limits "undemocratic."

"Indefinite re-election is contrary to democratic principles," Molina said.