Venezuelans to vote on Chavez term limit


CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) — Venezuelans will vote in a Feb. 15 referendum on whether to allow President Hugo Chavez to stay in office as long as he keeps winning elections, authorities said Friday.

Loud U.S. critic Chavez has already been in power a decade but says he needs at least another 10 years to deepen popular social reforms. Under current rules he must leave office in 2013 after serving his maximum of two six-year terms.

"The electoral powers can offer the country nothing less than excellence," said Tibisay Lucena, the president of the National Electoral Council. "On Feb. 15 we will offer an impeccable election."

Voters will be asked whether they approve lifting term limits for Chavez as well as for governors and mayors.

Venezuelans have already frustrated one attempt by Chavez to lift the constitutional restriction on unlimited re-election, voting against a wide-ranging package of political reforms in 2007.
Opposition parties were emboldened by that victory over Chavez, their first since he took office in 1999, and are hopeful they can stop him again.

Polls conducted in December showed more than half of voters intend to oppose the rule change, with about 40 percent supporting the proposal.

(Reporting by Fabian Cambero)