24 Nov 2013

President given special powers to govern

7:00 am on 24 November 2013

The National Assembly in Venezuela has given final approval to special powers for President Nicolas Maduro.

Under the measures Mr Maduro will be able to govern without consulting Congress for 12 months.

After signing the bill, he promised to keep prices down and conduct an anti-corruption offensive.

The president said the aim of the new powers is to tackle the economic crisis. However, critics fear he may use them against the opposition.

Venezuela is facing shortages of food and other essential goods, as well as power cuts and about 54% inflation.

The BBC reports Mr Maduro has already forced retailers to slash prices by up to 60%. The government has also imposed strict controls over the sale of foreign currency.

But the opposition says Mr Maduro already had enough powers.

"What does Maduro needs more powers for? He handles the economy," opposition MP Andres Velasquez told the TV Globovision.

Approval of the "Ley Habilitante" (Enabling Act) was widely expected after its first reading on 14 November. The government needed 99 votes to pass the bill.

Former President Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer in March, resorted to Enabling Acts four times during his 14 years in power.

Local elections are due to be held on 8 December.