CARACAS Dec 13 Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez is set to decree a batch of laws after requesting
special powers from parliament to speed up relief efforts for
more than 120,000 people left homeless by rains.
Opponents fear the flamboyant socialist leader will use the
powers to undermine their strength in the South American
nation's new parliament beginning on Jan. 5. [ID:nN11265079]
Here are questions and answers about the decree powers,
which parliament is expected to grant Chavez this week:
WHY IS CHAVEZ ALLOWED TO RULE BY DECREE?
Under Venezuelan law, parliament can give the president
fast-track powers if four-fifths of lawmakers approve the
motion. Since the opposition boycotted legislative elections in
2005, only a small block of lawmakers oppose Chavez in the
current parliament. He has used such powers three times already
since taking office in 1999 and passed more than 100 laws by
decree including legislation that let him nationalize major oil
projects and increase his influence in the Supreme Court.
WHY IS CHAVEZ ASKING FOR THESE POWERS NOW?
Lashed for weeks by heavy rain, Venezuela needs millions of
dollars to build new roads and rehouse the homeless, many from
precarious hillside slums now too dangerous to reinhabit.
Chavez says he needs to fast-track laws covering housing,
farming, food, infrastructure and the economy "with the aim of
definitively resolving the emergency."
Leading opposition journalist Teodoro Petkoff questioned
Chavez's logic, saying the president's request was "theater"
designed to distract attention from the fact that over the
course of 12 years the government has failed to adequately
build decent housing for the poor.
Others in the opposition believe the president's real
purpose is to limit opponents' authority in the new parliament,
which convenes on Jan. 5.
It is not clear what laws Chavez will pass in the next few
weeks, but an emergency housing law allowing the government to
seize disused land in cities, new rules to regulate the
Internet and a law that will take some profits from banks are
among bills currently on the parliamentary agenda.
WHY IS THE OPPOSITION WARY OF THE MOVE?
An alliance of opposition parties won more than a third of
parliamentary seats in September elections, giving them power
in the new assembly to block the passage of major new
legislation, which requires a two-thirds super majority to be
approved. Chavez has not yet specified for how long he plans to
request the special powers, but the fear is he will use them
well into next year, allowing him to ride roughshod over the
opposition parties' new strength.
After Jan. 5, Chavez's Socialist Party will be one seat
short of the 99 votes needed to give him decree powers. Many
among the opposition argue it will be illegal to use such
powers beyond that date. The Socialist Party is also disputing
a seat they lost by a small margin in the Sept. 30 vote. A
result in their favor would give Chavez the power to call for
decree powers in the future.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR DEMOCRACY IN VENEZUELA?
Chavez is within his rights to request these powers, at
least during the next three weeks, but he risks tarnishing his
democratic credentials if he chooses to use them well into the
next parliament. Chavez has always accepted the results of
elections, most of which he has won. But he took steps to
weaken the authority of opposition leaders who stripped him of
several states and city halls in a 2008 vote. Most notably, he
cut back powers and budget from Antonio Ledezma, an opponent
who was elected as Caracas mayor. Ledezma is still mayor, but
his authority is diminished and an official named by Chavez now
carries out many of his functions.
Last week Chavez's lawmakers named nine new Supreme Court
judges, rushing their appointments through before Jan. 5, after
which the government would have to negotiate the selection of
such high officials with the opposition.
With his relentless pressure on opposition media,
domination of the courts, and the use of legal proceedings
against powerful critics, Chavez is open to accusations he is
Many poor people in Venezuela however, say the president
has ushered in more democracy through increased participation
in politics and decision making, with grass-roots councils and
other organizations giving communities funding for public
(Additional reporting by Patricia Rondon, Editing by Andrew
Cawthorne and Doina Chiacu)