President Hugo Chavez (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk) has been granted special powers by the country’s parliament in order to deal with the aftermath of devastating floods.
Therefore, for 18 months the Venezuelan president will be able to pass laws by decree without needing the support of congress.
Critics accuse Chavez of taking advantage of the floods to strengthen his grip on power, warning that the move will turn the country into a near-dictatorship.
Since he became president almost 12 years ago, Chavez has been given such authority four times.
Venezuelan president had asked to able to rule by decree for a year in order to address the emergency caused by floods and landslides that have killed around 40 people and left 140,000 homeless. The period was extended to 18 months by the National Assembly.
According to the head of the Assembly, Cilia Flores, lawmakers were responding to the demands of flood victims.
“So that they can have their streets, their highways, public services, electricity, everything to live in dignity, we are going to hear their proposals and concerns,” she said.
Mr Chavez says he has already drawn up a “battery” of 20 new laws which he will pass by decree, which include measures to raise value-added tax to fund reconstruction and build thousands of homes for flood victims.
The timing of the “Enabling Law”, as it is known, is deeply cynical, said opposition groups.
The president’s supporters dominate the current parliament, but a new congress will be sworn in in January.
And after elections last September, many more opposition members will be sitting in this new congress, making it more difficult for Chavez to pass laws.
The opposition fear Mr Chavez will use the powers to move Venezuela closer to a left-wing dictatorship.
The enabling law has one single aim according to newly elected opposition congressman Julio Borges : “to give more power to the government and take power away from the people”.
He added that the opposition would keep fighting to make sure the “Cuban project” would fail.
These concerns have been dismissed by president Chavez.
But he made his determination to deepen his “socialist revolution” clear, saying on Thursday : “We are building a new democracy here that can’t be turned back.”
His new powers concern relief and reconstruction, but also infrastructure, banking and finance, rural and urban land use, telecommunications, defence and security.
18 monthes means that until the middle of 2012, just months before Venezuela’s next presidential election, the opposition will be largely excluded from policy-making in the country.