Venezuela to make lawmakers vote with their parties

CARACAS, (Reuters) – Venezuela’s National Assembly  passed a bill yesterday to stop lawmakers voting against their  political parties in the latest move of a legislative onslaught  before a new parliament is seated next month.

Opponents of socialist President Hugo Chavez say the new  bill is an attack on the right of Assembly members to vote with  their consciences in South America’s biggest oil producer.

The outgoing parliament, which is dominated by members of  Chavez’s ruling Socialist Party, has passed a raft of laws in  recent days including one that lets the former soldier bypass  the next Assembly and rule by decree for 18 months.

Yesterday’s bill was denounced by a small group of lawmakers  who split with Chavez’s self-styled revolution.

The president  of parliament, Cilia Flores, said the new legislation would  stop other members from switching sides during the next  Assembly.

“With this law we knock down the intentions of others to do  what you did,” she said in response to criticism from the rebel  legislators during the debate.

The next Assembly will have 98 members from Chavez’s ruling  Socialist Party and 65 from a newly united opposition coalition  that won about half the popular vote at a legislative poll in  September. It also will have two members from a smaller party.

The most controversial new law was the one giving Chavez  decree powers, which the president says he needs to deal with  an emergency caused by floods that have killed 40 people and  have driven nearly 140,000 from their homes.

That was denounced by opponents who had hoped to hinder his  legislative agenda in the new parliament beginning on Jan. 5,  and by the U.S. State Department, which said Chavez was  subverting the will of the people and finding new and  “creative” methods to justify autocratic powers.

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