CARACAS, (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is taking decree powers for a year in a move he says is needed to deal with disastrous floods but opponents denounce as a calculated blow to democracy.
What are the possible consequences for South America’s biggest oil producer and its flamboyant socialist leader two years ahead of the next presidential election?
Here are possible scenarios:
CHAVEZ DEEPENS REVOLUTION, HEADS FOR 2012 WIN
* By asking the compliant outgoing National Assembly for an “Enabling Law” providing decree powers, Chavez has given himself free rein to push through legislation to entrench his self-styled “21st century socialism” revolution on all fronts.
* In the wake of floods that left about 140,000 people homeless, he will probably extend his nationalization policies by seizing more land for housing. The decree powers also give Chavez a chance to take any painful economic measures now, then ease up and court popularity ahead of the December 2012 vote.
* He can also ensure passage of long-cherished plans to change Venezuela’s political structures, including increasing the power and funding of local grass-roots structures that are loyal to him and support his radical agenda.
* Most importantly, he is able to bypass the new National Assembly that convenes on Jan. 5 and marginalize opposition parties he despises. Having won 40 percent of seats at a parliamentary election last September, they were feeling rejuvenated and licking their lips at a chance to start putting a brake on Chavez’s power and legislative program beginning next month. Now they have to rethink their strategy entirely as the president has made the Assembly effectively redundant.
* If all goes to plan for Chavez, the concentration of power will enable him to rule and spend in such a way as to guarantee a win in the 2012 presidential election. Although the elections in September showed the country politically split down the middle between “Chavistas” and the opposition, there is still no single national rival anywhere near his poll figures.
DECREE MOVE CAUSES UNREST
* Some analysts have spoken of a possible constitutional crisis in Venezuela, and there could be expectations of mass protests against Chavez as seen in the past — but these would appear to be a least likely scenario.
* The timing of the decree powers, extending well into a new parliament that will have a greater number of opposition members, is highly provocative and goes against the spirit of the September vote. But Chavez is well within his legal rights to ask the current National Assembly for an “Enabling Law,” and has done it three times before since taking power in 1999.
* He has cleverly made his move right before Christmas, when Venezuelans take long holidays and flock to the country’s Caribbean beaches. That means the opposition would have trouble rallying massive protests even if they wanted to.
* Chavez has also cast the measure as a response to an emergency, meaning anyone opposing it can be called heartless.
* There is, however, widespread fury at the measure among his opponents, and there have already been some small-scale protests and skirmishes outside the National Assembly.