Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has moved to bypass parliament and govern by decree for one year, prompting opposition charges that he was acting like a dictator.
Having used such powers three times during his 11-year rule, the Socialist leader says he needs them again to respond to a national emergency caused by floods that have left more than 130,000 homeless.
"He's winning time with the tragedy to put limits on the new National Assembly," said opposition politician Pastora Medina. "He is consolidating himself as a dictator, going above the [institutional powers] to govern."
A freshly united opposition coalition won about half the popular vote in a September parliamentary election to take 40 per cent of seats in a new National Assembly that will convene on 5 January, when they hoped to put a check on Mr Chavez's power.
But in a move to outflank them – and with an eye on the next presidential vote in 2012 – Mr Chavez yesterday asked the outgoing Assembly, dominated by his ruling Socialist Party, to grant him fast-track decree powers. He said the powers could extend for up to 18 months.
A leading opposition newspaper Tal Cual denounced the move – along with a package of laws being rushed through to entrench the President's "21st-century socialism" – as a "totalitarian ambush".