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New electoral law favours Chavez, say critics

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is set to sign in to law an electoral reform bill that critics say would unfairly favour the leftist leader's party in next year's legislative elections. The country's national assembly approved the measure on Friday.

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Reuters - Venezuela’s national assembly on Friday approved a reform of the electoral law that the opposition says would improve the chances of President Hugo Chavez’s supporters in next year’s legislative elections.

Chavez, who has been pushing a socialist revolution in the South American country, is expected to sign the bill into law in coming days.

The measure would give the party winning the most votes more seats than the percentage of ballots it obtained and allow the government-controlled election council to redraw electoral districts, potentially undermining opposition strongholds.

Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela dominates the assembly and the opposition holds only a handful of the 167 seats.

But the popularity of Chavez, who has been in power for more than a decade, has fallen in opinion polls to about 50-54 percent from 64 percent earlier this year. In 2008, opposition parties won five gubernatorial races.

“The law is designed to safeguard the government’s congressional majority in next year’s legislative elections and prolong President Hugo Chavez’s tenure safely until the next presidential elections in 2012,” Patrick Estruelas, analyst for the EurasiaGroup consultancy, said in a research note last week.

Opposition leaders say the new electoral law is unconstitutional and could prevent several smaller parties from entering the assembly next year.

But Deputy Carlos Escarra, a Chavez supporter, said, “There are still people stuck in the past that don’t understand the signs of the time, while we are thinking that we have to move forward in this revolution.”

The national assembly is also considering legislation that would restrict private property and the media.

Chavez suggested last week he may ask the assembly for special powers to govern by decree as he has done on previous occasions for several months at a time.

 

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