Tag Archives: Venezuela

Venezuela – President Maduro gains Decree Powers until December

Today, Venezuela’s Congress voted to once again delegate decree powers to President Nicolás Maduro. After a two-hour debate and a vote by a show of hands, Congress awarded Maduro special powers to unilaterally legislate in the areas of defense and public spending, a prerogative that Maduro can enjoy until at least December.

The decision by the government controlled Congress to delegate decree power once again to the president was initiated amidst an acrimonious and damaging spat with the United States. Last Monday, the Obama administration leveled sanctions against seven prominent members of the Venezuelan government. In addition, President Obama issued an executive order, which characterized Venezuela as a security threat. Obama launched this offensive due to what the US has called repeated ‘human rights abuses’ and has ordered Venezuela to release all political prisoners, including the high profile opposition leader, Leopoldo López.

This aggression has backfired somewhat on the Obama administration. Leaders across Latin America have condemned US actions and have accused the US of interfering in Latin American sovereignty. Given the checkered history of the US in the region, this is a bad time to be evoking echoes of the Cold War amidst a thawing of relations with Cuba. And in Venezuela, Congress delegated these powers to the president in response to the ‘threat from the United States.’

This is the second time since Maduro has come to office that Congress has delegated such decree power to him. In October 2013, the president asked the National Assembly to pass the “Enabling Law,” a piece of legislation that granted him decree power for 12 months in order to deal with corruption and ‘economic sabotage.’ This gave President Maduro the ability to fast track certain pieces of legislation and to pass others without congressional approval.

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.’[1]

It is this use of unilateral decree power with which Latin American presidents have ridden roughshod over national legislatures, which is often associated with the Linzian interpretation of the perils of the presidentialism. In Venezuela of course, these powers are not indicative of a hostile house (or at least not the larger part of it) – rather a subservient one.[2] The actions of the US have only served to reinforce this relationship.

[1] 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.

[2] See Cox, Gary and Scott Morgenstern. 2001. “Latin America’s Reactive Assemblies and Proactive Presidents.” Comparative Politics, 33(2), 171-189.

Venezuela – Mixed Result for Maduro and PSUV in Municipal Elections

On Sunday December 8th, Venezuela held local elections for 335 municipalities and two metropolitan districts. These elections were widely touted, at least by the major opposition alliance, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), as a plebiscite on the rule of Nicolás Maduro and public support for the ‘Bolivarian Revolution.’ The results were not as damning for Maduro and his Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) as the opposition might have hoped.  The PSUV and their allies won over 49 per cent of the total vote, with the MUD  (and allies) claiming 43 per cent, and independents accounting for the remaining votes. This means that, according to the latest count from the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), the PSUV now hold power in 196 municipalities, in comparison to 53 municipalities controlled by MUD.[1]

However, this is not to suggest that all is rosy for President Maduro. Although support in the rural strongholds of the PSUV held steadfast, the urban support base of the party has clearly been diluted. The MUD now controls seven of 23 state capitals, including: Maracaibo (Zulia state), Valencia (Carabobo state), Iribarren (Lara state), San Cristóbal (Táchira state), Barinas, the hometown of Hugo Chávez, (Barinas state), and the capital Caracas, where the incumbent mayor, Antonio Ledezma, just held on.

Without a doubt, the erosion of this urban support for the PSUV partly lies in Maduro’s economic woes. Despite his recently passed ‘Enabling Law,’ Maduro has failed to tame inflation, now at 54 per cent. With price controls across the economy doing little to address the problem, diminishing support for the PSUV in the big cities is clearly related to the traditional aversion of the urban middle and (formal sector) working classes in Latin America to price instability.[2]

This election also clearly highlights the continuing polarization of the Venezuelan electorate and political classes. The opposition have raised questions about the extent of electoral malpractice during these elections. Vicente Díaz, a member of the board of CNE, denounced the government abuse of state media to undermine the opposition. The government deny this.

Finally, if the considerable levels of political polarization in Venezuela have any positives, it is probably the increased political participation it drives. Turnout on Sunday was over 59 per cent, a rather impressive figure for municipal elections anywhere.


[1] Up from 46 municipalities in 2008.

[2] See Andy Baker (2010) The Market and the Masses in Latin America: Policy Reform and Consumption in Liberalizing Economies, Cambridge University Press, for an excellent discussion on the importance of inflation for the Latin American electorate.   

Venezuela – Nicolás Maduro Seeks Decree Power from the National Assembly

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.’[1]

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.


[1] 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.