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Aug 16, 2013 | 15:08 GMT

Venezuela's President Seeks Expanded Powers

Venezuela's President Seeks Expanded Powers
(JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images)
Summary

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro appears set to ask Venezuela's congress for permission to legislate by decree, a move supposedly intended to enable the president to act against government corruption. By passing a maneuver known in Venezuela as an enabling law, the National Assembly could grant Maduro the ability to pass laws without the approval of the legislature. The specific laws Maduro may pass remain unclear, though the initial target of a possible anti-corruption drive appears to be the party of former presidential challenger Henrique Capriles Radonski, the governor of Miranda state.

Legislation by decree could also be the first step toward increasing Maduro's authority among Chavista political leaders. If passed, the enabling law could give Maduro greater sway in addressing Venezuela's persistent economic and social problems.

On Aug. 15, Maduro announced that he would request the enabling law in order to address corruption and to restructure government ministries. The president's request came after legislators from the ruling United Socialist Party presented evidence of alleged corruption by Primero Justicia, the party of Capriles, who ran against Maduro in Venezuela's April presidential election and has repeatedly challenged the election's results. 

Some of the evidence presented by legislators on Aug. 12 specifically targeted two Primero Justicia party members who participated in Capriles' presidential campaign. In July, the legislature voted to strip Primero Justicia lawmaker Richard Mardo of his parliamentary immunity on allegations of money laundering and tax fraud. 

According to the Venezuelan Constitution, an enabling law permits the Venezuelan president to enact decrees to address only a specific national emergency or issue. However, the enabling laws granted to former President Hugo Chavez were not limited to the original issue they intended to address. Chavez received such special powers from the national legislature on four separate occasions. The last enabling law was passed in December 2010 to address damage caused by nationwide flooding. Chavez used the opportunity to pass laws dealing with the armed forces, the police and the banking and housing sectors. Any enabling law provided to Maduro could be used in the same manner. 

Maduro may be looking to pass legislation to deal with Venezuela's numerous economic and social challenges. He may seek to address the country's rising inflation, its food and foreign exchange shortages, and Venezuela's high crime rate — issues that fall well outside the scope of the enabling law. 

This ability to rule by decree would consolidate Maduro's power after the highly contested April election and help him fend off possible competition from other figures in the ruling party's inner circle. Despite the creation of a possible imbalance within the United Socialist Party, Maduro's main political rival, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, appears firmly behind the initiative. While the ruling party is publicly united on Maduro's possible enabling law, rivals could be privately opposed to enhancing Maduro's writ. For now, the party appears united against the opposition despite Maduro's lack of charisma or political credibility. The party also seems willing to prosecute specific instances of alleged corruption within its own ranks, as shown by the arrest of former Guarico state Gov. Luis Gallardo. 

Venezuela's endemic economic and social problems will eventually challenge this party unity. Despite increased authority, Maduro will still be constrained by structural issues such as inflation, deteriorating oil infrastructure, foreign currency shortages and rising crime. Any failure to improve these ongoing issues could weaken party unity throughout his term and erode his political power despite the enabling law.

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