Venezuelan lawmakers have granted President Hugo Chavez broad powers to enact laws by decree, undermining the clout of a new congress that takes office next month with a bigger opposition bloc.
Chavez opponents condemned the move as a power grab, saying the law will be a blank check for the leftist leader to rule without consulting lawmakers. The National Assembly approved the special powers for 18 months.
A new congress goes into session on January 5 with an opposition contingent large enough to hinder approval of some types of major laws.
Opposition lawmakers say decree powers allow Mr Chavez to rule autocratically while ignoring the congress.
Mr Chavez has argued he needs decree powers to fast-track funds to help the victims of recent floods and landslides, and also to hasten Venezuela’s transition to a socialist state.
The president’s critics view the law as one of many controversial measures being pushed through in the final weeks of a lame-duck congress.
Another measure under discussion was the revised Social Responsibility Law, which would impose broadcast-type regulations on the internet and ban online messages “that could incite or promote hatred”, create “anxiety” in the population or “disrespect public authorities”.
Questions remain about how the internet regulations would be enforced.
“They’re accusing me of being a dictator,” Mr Chavez had said of the decree powers on state television, dismissing the criticism as unfounded. “We’re building a new democracy here that can’t be turned back.”
The law to grant Mr Chavez decree powers, the fourth such legislation of his near 12-year presidency, also will allow him to unilaterally enact measures involving telecommunications, the banking system, information technology, the military, rural and urban land use, and the country’s “socio-economic system”.