Chavez says decree powers may last 18 months

CARACAS (Reuters) – President Hugo Chavez sought to outwit Venezuela’s rejuvenated opposition yesterday by saying he would assume fast-track decree powers for up to 18 months and scoffed at criticism this would undermine democracy.

Venezuela’s outgoing National Assembly, which is dominated by the ruling Socialist Party, is expected to pass this week a special “Enabling Law” giving Chavez the same special powers he has exercised three times before in his rule.

Opposition parties had said it would be illegitimate to extend the measure beyond January 5 when a new parliament, with a larger presence of Chavez opponents, is to convene. But Chavez, in an address carried live on TV, laughed at them as “crazy” and “in need of Valium”. Clutching a copy of the law to be sent to parliament today, Chavez said it would give him decree powers for between six and 18 months.

“We’ll keep showing them what we are capable of,” he said.
He justifies the measure as necessary to handle a national emergency caused by floods that have left more than 130,000 people homeless in the South American nation.

But opponents fear he will use the powers to legislate in areas not limited to dealing with the rains.
Chavez, who wants to be re-elected for president in 2012, has generally outflanked Venezuela’s opposition during his 11 years, winning all but one of about a dozen elections.

He has used decree powers in the past to pass about 100 laws, including controversial measures to nationalize part of the oil sector and increase the number of Supreme Court judges.

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