Venezuela's National Assembly Moves Closer to Handing Maduro Decree Powers UPDATED

Venezuela's National Assembly (AN) has moved closer to granting President Nicolas Maduro decree powers, with the necessary three-fifths majority voting in favour of the measures in the first discussion of the proposed law yesterday.

By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
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Enabling laws have been a common feature of Venezuelan politics, even before the Chavez government. They need a 3/5 vote of support to be passed.
Enabling laws have been a common feature of Venezuelan politics, even before the Chavez government. They need a 3/5 vote of support to be passed.

Merida, 15th November 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela's National Assembly (AN) has moved closer to granting President Nicolas Maduro decree powers, with the necessary three-fifths majority voting in favour of the measures in the first discussion of the proposed law yesterday.

The draft Enabling Law will now be subject to a detailed parliamentary debate and will face a final "second discussion" vote next Tuesday. However yesterday's vote confirmed that the government has the necessary support in the AN to pass the law, making it very likely it will be approved.

“Because Chavez lives, yes!” One legislator shouted when the AN voted on the Enabling Law in the tight vote yesterday afternoon. The vote passed with exactly the necessary three-fifths of lawmakers voting in favour of the law in its first discussion.

Under the Enabling Law, the president can enact laws by decree, bypassing the AN. The decree powers can only be granted to a president for a limited period, and can be rescinded by a vote at the AN.

Maduro first announced he would request decree powers in August, stating they would be used to pass new legislation to tackle corruption and end what he has described as an “economic war” against his government. Last month he formally asked the AN to enact the Enabling Law, but until this week Maduro was one vote short of the three-fifths majority support he needed.

However, the way was paved for the president on Tuesday, when the AN voted to strip opposition legislator Maria Aranguren of her parliamentary immunity. Aranguren is now under investigation for embezzlement, conspiracy, and money laundering.

The allegations relate to Aranguren's past presiding over the company Administradora Inmobiliaria Monumental de Maturín C.A., which managed and maintained a stadium in Maturín, capital of Monagas state. The public prosecutor has alleged that the company failed to pay taxes, and held unauthorised contacts with foreign companies worth more than bs3 million.

Aranguren has denied the allegations, and accused the government of pursuing the charges so Maduro could secure the vote.

While the investigation is ongoing, Aranguren is unable to hold office. Although when she was elected Aranguren backed the government, she flipped to the opposition last year. In today's vote, Aranguren's substitute, Carlos Flores, joined her former socialist allies in backing the law.

In total, 99 legislators backed Maduro's request, 60 voted against it and 2 abstained.

Yesterday, Maduro reiterated his pledge to use the decree powers to “win the economic battle”.

Describing the powers as “a weapon of justice and protection for our working people”, Maduro said he would use the enabling law to “protect the people from parasites and speculators”.

Former presidential candidate and governor of Miranda state Henrique Capriles accused Maduro of “immorality”.

“They talk about corruption and look what its worth, judicial corruption for a vote,” Capriles said after the vote. “Don't they have enough power?” he added.

“There is an institutional coup in Venezuela, there is no separation of powers,” opposition legislator Gomez Sigala said this afternoon. Sigala labelled Aranguren's suspension as “just an excuse to dismantle democracy, the constitution and the rule of law”.

“This is a popular victory,” AN president and socialist party (PSUV) legislator Diosdado Cabello stated after the vote. Cabello announced that Maduro will be able to start using his decree powers after the assembly votes on the second reading of the law on Tuesday.

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