Venezuela’s Congress Approves Decree Powers for Maduro

(Reuters) -

Venezuelan lawmakers granted President Nicolas Maduro yearlong decree powers on Tuesday that he says are essential to regulate the economy and stamp out corruption but adversaries view as a thinly veiled power grab.

Hundreds of supporters of the ruling Socialist Party cheered outside the National Assembly as the so-called Enabling Law was passed, while a recording of Maduro’s late predecessor, Hugo Chavez, singing Venezuela’s anthem rang out inside the hall.

Though winning the decree powers hands Maduro a political victory in the runup to December 8 municipal elections, he still faces a severely distorted economy with embarrassing product shortages and inflation surging to nearly 55 percent.

“With this Enabling Law we are following an order by President Chavez,” said Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly and a staunch supporter of Maduro. “He told us to pass all the laws necessary to wring the necks of the speculators and the money launderers.”

The result of Tuesday’s vote on decree powers had been widely expected.

Maduro, 50, who is staking his rule on preserving the late Chavez’s socialist legacy, originally justified the decree as necessary to crack down on corruption, drawing skepticism from critics who say he zealously targets opposition officials while turning a blind eye to the worst of state-linked graft.

“Why don’t you punish people who have not complied with the [existing] laws? You want the Enabling Law to concentrate power,” one opposition leader, Julio Borges, accused “Chavista” lawmakers during a charged debate ahead of the vote.