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.