BOGOTA, Colombia -- Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is one “yea” shy of the 99 votes he needs in the National Assembly to win the decree powers he says he will use to squash rampant corruption in the South American nation. But just how, and from whom, he will get that final vote is testing the resolve of a battered opposition as it’s gearing up for critical municipal elections.
Since floating the decree idea last week, Maduro has been urging opposition members to jump ship. In his speeches and tweets, “99” has become shorthand for the debate.
“Number 99 can do everything, I trust him now and forever,” he tweeted Wednesday. “Who will it be?”
On Thursday, the coalition of opposition parties, known as the MUD, tried to bring their congressmen to heel.
“In the hypothetical case that the government wins 99 votes during the [legislative] session that would mean that a vote was bought from an opposition member,” the MUD wrote in a full-page ad. “That is to say that, once again, [the administration] would have committed an act of corruption.”
The MUD also questioned why Maduro needs special powers if he already controls the legislature and 90 percent of all the resources that come into the country.
“How can they justify this request,” the MUD wrote. “It would mean that the National Assembly and the Comptroller General’s Office would be delegating their power to the presidency — the very body that these two powers are supposed to be overseeing.”
Maduro needs three-fifths of the legislature’s 165 votes to win the decree powers that would give him the right to enact corruption-fighting legislation without going through the National Assembly. However, his predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, was granted decree powers on four occasions and often used the authority to legislate beyond the issue at hand. In 2010, when given the power to fight flooding, he used it to pass laws on banking, housing, police and other issues.
Rivals fear Maduro will use his special powers to attack their candidates in the run-up to December’s municipal race.
“There is a clear attempt going on to undermine the opposition,” said Freddy Guevara, the national political coordinator for the Voluntad Popular opposition party. “They are trying to lynch us morally and politically and, who knows, maybe even legally.”
Since taking office in March, Maduro has made fighting corruption central to his administration. But that has put him in the position of shining a light on problems that Chávez — his hero and mentor — ignored during his 13 years in power.
“Why now, after so many years, is the government worried about corruption?” the MUD asked in its letter, published in El Universal. “Wasn’t Chávez worried about it?”
Maduro has said there are no sacred cows in this fight. In June, the former governor of Guarico and a party loyalist, Luis Gallardo, was jailed for misuse of funds. Earlier this week, the government announced it had detained more than 40 people for gaming the foreign currency control system, called Cadivi. Among those caught in the net was Lt. Col. Francisco Navas, who ran Cadivi’s import department for more than a decade.
But much of the corruption campaign seems focused on the Primero Justicia political party, which was founded by Miranda Gov. Henrique Capriles — who ran against Maduro in April.