Venezuelan lawmakers have granted President Hugo Chavez extraordinary legislative powers to govern the country by decree for the next 18 months.
Applause broke out on Friday as the pro-government national assembly approved the measure just three weeks after the opposition made landmark gains to take 40 per cent of seats — 67 out of 165 — in the new assembly.
The new legislature will end the unhindered advantage the ruling United Socialist Party has enjoyed for five years in passing laws, after opposition parties boycotted the 2005 elections and were shut out of the process.
The new law appears to mean that Chavez could now simply overrule the legislature by issuing a decree.
“We declare as approved the law authorising the president... to issue decrees with rank, worth and power of laws on matters delegated to him,” said National Assembly President Cilia Flores.
It is the fourth time Chavez has been allowed to rule by decree since he was elected in 1999. He was given special powers in 2000, 2001 and 2008, when he approved more than 100 laws.
Chavez asked for the special powers to quickly deal with the heavy rains and flooding in past weeks which has killed 38 people and affected some 130,000.
Originally, the powers were to last for 12 months, but lawmakers extended them to 18 months by “request of the (flood) victims themselves.”
According to the government’s Gaceta Oficial publication, Chavez’s new authority, beside emergency matters, will also extend to finance, housing and infrastructure, social affairs, international cooperation and urban planning.
In an address to the nation on Thursday, Chavez said he had “nearly ready” some 20 laws he would announce once granted the powers.
The assembly backing Chavez’s socialist-populist government has scrambled in recent weeks to pass major legislation on the banking system and public administration, among other laws.
One law set for approval would punish electronic media that broadcast messages that put national security at risk, encourage unrest or support killing the president.
The measure, known as the Law of Social Responsibility on Radio and Television, also authorises the executive to order Internet operators to restrict access to websites that broadcast the banned information.
The new law was strongly criticised both inside and outside Venezuela, with opposition lawmakers saying it was an effrontery to democracy and the principle of separation of powers. (AFP)