(photo credit: AP [file])
The National Assembly has given initial approval to a measure that would let President Hugo Chavez enact laws by decree for 1 years, a key step in what the leftist leader calls an accelerating march toward socialism.
The law is expected to easily win final approval next week in a second session of the legislature, which is filled entirely with Chavez allies. Among the laws planned by Chavez are moves to nationalize Venezuela's main telecommunications company and the electricity and natural gas sectors.
The overarching measure that would allow Chavez to pass laws by decree was approved unanimously in its first reading Thursday after a four-hour discussion by lawmakers. National Assembly President Cilia Flores said final approval is to come next week, though she did not specify a day.
"This process is unstoppable," lawmaker Juan Montenegro Nunez told the National Assembly. "This process is a historic necessity."
Emboldened by landslide re-election last month, Chavez says he is seeking special powers to approve "revolutionary laws" that would mean political, economic, social, national security and defense reforms. Only some of those changes have been spelled out as lawmakers have considered Chavez's request for the broad "mother law" that would give him special legislative powers.
The National Assembly has been entirely filled with Chavez's allies since opposition parties boycotted 2005 elections, citing concerns about fairness. Chavez has said his opponents pulled out of those elections because they knew they had little support.
Opposition politician Gerardo Blyde criticized the proposed law, saying "what is becoming evident is that all the powers are one single power in Venezuela - Hugo Chavez."
Flores said as the debate opened Thursday: "The president has asked for a year and a half, and he will have a year and a half to adapt all of these laws to the new political model."
Separately, Chavez has formed a commission to recommend sweeping changes to the country's constitution. He has defended the plans to reform the constitution for the second time since he took office in 1999, saying the current charter permits constant revision to adapt to "moral" changes in the world.
He said the constitution must be revised to eliminate parts "where the oligarchy, the counterrevolution managed to infiltrate their concepts."
Chavez said Venezuelans would decide whether to approve constitutional reforms in a referendum, and that the vote would likely be held by the end of this year.
Among the revisions, Chavez has said he is seeking an end to presidential term limits, which would allow him to run again for the presidency in December 2012.
Chavez also is looking at internal government reforms, and has promised to push through a law capping the salaries of state employees.
On the economic front, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro suggested that nationalization also was on the horizon for the mining sector. "The basic industries of minerals should be in the hands of the national state," he said Thursday while attending a summit in Brazil.
He did not elaborate on what that would mean for private companies with mining agreements for gold or diamonds, or whether it implied a total state takeover or majority stakes for the government in mining operations. For decades, state conglomerates have dominated the mining of iron and bauxite to produce steel and aluminum.
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