Venezuela consolidates Zimbabwe path

CARACAS, Aug 24, 2007 (AFP) – Lawmakers Friday launched a national campaign for constitutional reform to consolidate President Hugo Chavez’s power and socialist agenda that a weak and splintered opposition seems powerless to stop. With Chavez loyalists taking up all 167 seats of the single-chamber legislature, the constitutional reform is assured passage before it is put to a referendum the National Election Board (CNE) has set for December.

Lawmakers swore in the first 400 volunteers of an 80,000-strong army that will canvass support in the referendum for the amendments to the 1999 constitution Chavez is seeking, including an end to presidential term limits.

With no opposition lawmakers in the way of three procedural votes the reform package faces in the legislature — the first of which passed earlier this week — the anti-reform group can only hope to sway Venezuelans in their favor.

Opposition parties closed themselves out of the National Assembly when they boycotted the 2005 legislative elections, and have since struggled to form a cohesive bloc to counter Chavez’ stranglehold on power.

“In real life, we can’t invent a movement that doesn’t exist,” said Tal Cual newspaper editor Teodoro Petkoff. “The (oppos