Last Tuesday October 8th, President Nicolás Maduro asked the National Assembly to pass the “Enabling Law,” a piece of legislation, which would grant him decree power for 12 months in order to deal with corruption and ‘economic sabotage.’ This would give President Maduro the ability to fast track certain pieces of legislation and to pass others without congressional approval.
In a three-hour speech to the National Assembly, Maduro stressed his intention was to use this power to fight corruption within Venezuela, and even within his own party.
The opposition accused Maduro of attempting to increase his own power, and sideline a strengthening opposition. Decree power would most likely be very welcome for Maduro, both in order to sideline potential internal dissent from within his own bloc and to deal with spiraling inflation. In September, inflation peaked at 49.4 per cent, a jump of nearly 25 per cent since Hugo Chávez, Maduro’s predecessor, died in March. Maduro has struggled to deal with the increasing instability of prices, and this has affected his popularity. Although Maduro has suggested this enabling legislation will allow him to tackle ‘economic sabotage’, there is a lack of concrete specifics regarding what exact policies would be covered by this power.
Of course, this is not the first time that a Venezuelan President, nor indeed a Latin American president, has requested such ‘delegated powers’ from the legislature. Hugo Chávez was granted the power to rule by decree a total of four times, and used this power to enact nearly 200 legal changes, which allowed him to increase the presence of the state in the national economy. In Argentina in 1989, Carlos Menem was also delegated authority by the legislature to rule by decree in order to address the crippling hyperinflation that was plaguing the economy. Likewise, also in Argentina, Néstor Kirchner was delegated similar authority. This lack of legislative oversight, or horizontal accountability, became so widespread that the famous Argentine political scientist, Guillermo O’Donnell (1936-2011), characterized these weakly institutionalized Latin American democracies as ‘delegative democracies.’
It remains to be seen whether the assembly will pass the enabling law. Maduro needs 60 per cent of the assembly votes, or 99 seats. Together with his own bloc, the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), the Patria Para Todos (PPT) and Chavista-minded independents, Maduro should be able to guarantee 98 seats. He just needs to find one more legislator.
Discussions in the house will begin next week.
 O’Donnell, Guillermo. 1994. “Delegative Democracy,” Journal of Democracy, 5(1), pp. 55-69. Although in recent years, the analytical utility of this concept has been called into question.