Chávez seeks decree power from outgoing legislature

Venezuela’s national assembly has voted to approve a request by President Hugo Chávez to allow him to enact laws by decree for one year.

Lawmakers voted in President Chavez’s favor Tuesday following the first discussion on the request. Reports say a final vote on the controversial proposal is expected later this week.

Vice President Elias Jaua made the request earlier in the day on behalf of the president. The request was presented to the outgoing national assembly, which is dominated by President Chavez’s allies. Approval of the measure would give the president the ability to use such powers for the fourth time since he took office 11 years ago.

Chávez has said he wants to increase the sales tax to raise funds for reconstruction. The president wants to use the authorization to ensure approval of laws aimed at helping the country recover from severe weather that has left thousands homeless and in government shelters.

Also Tuesday, dozens of Chávez opponents massed outside the legislature to protest the measure. One opposition politician was quoted as saying the president is consolidating himself as a dictator.

Back in September, the opposition gained ground in parliamentary elections, winning more than 60 seats.

Venezuela’s new legislature will face a series of problems such as rising inflation and unemployment, as well as an increase in violent crime due in part to the illegal drug trade.

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