Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez asked congress Tuesday to grant him special powers to enact laws by decree for one year, just before a new legislature takes office with a larger contingent of opposition lawmakers.
The measure would give the president the authority to bypass the National Assembly for the fourth time since he was first elected almost 12 years ago.
Vice President Elias Jaua made the request on Chavez's behalf, saying the president will use the authorization to ensure fast-track approval of laws aimed at helping the nation recover from severe flooding and mudslides that left thousands homeless and in government shelters.
It is expected to win easy approval in the outgoing legislature dominated by Chavez allies.
Chavez's opponents accuse him of using the natural disaster to impose socialist-inspired measures and undermine the power of newly elected opposition lawmakers.
Hundreds of Chavez opponents protested outside the legislature Tuesday, saying Chavez is violating democratic principles and objecting to other planned laws that could impose regulations on the Internet and endanger Globovision, the country's last stridently anti-Chavez television channel.
They aren't saying just this to scare everyone. This fear is not without precedent:
The last time, he enjoyed special legislative powers for 18 months and used them to seize control of privately run oil fields, impose new taxes and nationalize telecommunications, electricity and cement companies.
They are afraid that he will use that year to tighten his control over the country's infrastructure and silence his critics and opposition. This request is coming at a time, when Chavez's opposition is growing and threatening the supermajority that he now enjoys:
Chavez supporters have dominated the National Assembly since the opposition boycotted 2005 elections, but the opposition gained ground in September elections.
Starting Jan. 5, Chavez will face 66 opponents among the 165 lawmakers, a group large enough to challenge some government measures and prevent him from holding a two-thirds majority — the threshold needed to approve some laws, such as granting the president decree powers.
He's, obviously, afraid that this may the last time that he'll be able to grab this much control, for a while. So, he's going to try to take full advantage of this oppurtunity because it may be a while before he gets another oppurtunity.