Chavez is hoping that his popularity will lead Venezuelans to accept indefinite presidential re-election, rather than see him step down.
 
Two-term presidency
 
Chavez was first elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2000 and 2006 after a new constitution drawn up in 1999 renamed the country and allowed for a two-term presidency.
 
He has said he would remain in office until February 2013.

"Since I have the power to call a referendum, if the opposition doesn't do it, I will"

Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan President

Chavez said a referendum call for a constitutional amendment allowing indefinite reelection could spring from either the people themselves or the National Assembly, "which can also take the initiative".

After the December 2 referendum was rejected by 50.7 per cent of the vote, Chavez vowed not to push for constitutional change through the back door of the legislature.

On Friday, however, Chavez suggested that legislators should convene a "confidence vote referendum" on his current mandate, which would put his office on the line, but if approved, would allow him indefinite re-election.

He has said he wants to have the constitution allow him to contest Venezuela's presidential elections until 2050, when he would be 95.

"Since I have the power to call a referendum, if the opposition doesn't do it, I will," Chavez said.

Two questions

The referendum would pose two questions, Chavez said.

"'Do you agree that Hugo Chavez should continue as president?' and concurrently 'Do you agree to a small constitutional amendment to allow indefinite re-election?'"

The referendum would have voters choose both or neither of the two questions.

The December referendum defeat was a blow for him because it represented the first time he had failed at the ballot box since 1998.

Chavez had told Venezuelans that the constitutional changes he proposed would see through his vision of making Venezuela a socialist economy, free from US "imperialism".