Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called for an end to presidential term limits on Wednesday to extend his rule and consolidate a self-styled socialist revolution in the OPEC nation.
The leftist former soldier also proposed eliminating central bank autonomy, strengthening state expropriation powers and giving himself control over international reserves as part of an overhaul of Venezuela's constitution.
Chavez's left-wing policies have sparked the ire of critics and U.S. officials who brand him an authoritarian menace and accuse him of using Venezuela's oil wealth to undermine democracy, but his majority poor supporters have handed him repeated electoral victories.
Unveiling his constitutional reform plans, which need to be approved in a referendum vote, Chavez said presidential terms should be extended by one year to seven years without restrictions on re-election.
Under the current constitution, Chavez is in his second and final term and could not be elected again after it ends in 2012. The reform proposal would allow him to stay for as long as he keeps winning elections.
If anyone is going to say this is a project to enthrone oneself, no, Chavez said. This is only a possibility, a possibility that depends on many variables.
In his lengthy speech to a loyal Congress that stretched until midnight, Chavez said the government should be able to control assets of private companies before winning court expropriation rulings.
He also said the maximum workday would be reduced to six hours from eight hours per day, and proposed providing social security benefits to informal workers like cab drivers and street vendors as part of his campaign to instill 21st Century Socialism.
Since taking power after a landslide election victory in 1998, Chavez has steadily increased his hold over Venezuela.
He holds a firm grip over state institutions, including the legislature -- where supporters control 100 percent of the seats -- courts and most state and municipal governments.
This year, the Venezuelan leader nationalized the nation's largest private telecommunications and electricity companies and took over four multi-billion dollar oil projects, forcing out oil giants ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil in the process.
His reform project may expand this energy nationalization crusade by changing the constitution to reserve natural gas exploration and production for the state.
A close ally of Cuba's Fidel Castro, Chavez has used bountiful oil revenues to finance a broad network of social programs that have cultivated strong support among the poor, who overwhelmingly backed his 2006 re-election.
His government has already moved to expand expropriations of farms judged to be unproductive and put the land in the hands of state-backed peasant cooperatives.
He led a push to rewrite Venezuela's constitution in 1999 and is proposing the new changes now to reinforce his socialist program.
As of today the debate over the reform ... should take the streets, Chavez said. Now we are headed straight toward socialism.