Venezuela's legislature starts debate Tuesday on granting special powers to President Nicolas Maduro for use fighting corruption, a move opponents say could lead to witch hunts.
Just two months before crucial municipal elections, elected leftist Maduro will personally ask the National Assembly to grant him power to toughen laws on corruption.
But the measure is one vote short of the number needed for approval under the country's constitution. And complaints have already started surfacing from opposition and independent legislators that they have been pressured to cast the missing vote.
To pass the act, which authorizes the president to issue "decrees with the force of law" three-fifths of the 165 National Assembly deputies must approve the measure.
The president announced Friday that he will also use the measure to address an "economic war" he claims is being waged against his government, as Venezuela faces record inflation and product shortages, which Maduro blames on the opposition and private entrepreneurs.
Weeks ago, Maduro ignited political debate when he accused opposition leader and Miranda state governor, Henrique Capriles, of covering up corruption.
In turn, Capriles, who lost the presidential election to Maduro by less than 1.5 percent, dared the government to imprison him and accused the president of corruption -- and using his fight against bribery to persecute the governor.
Capriles holds that Maduro seeks to weaken the opposition with an eye on the December 8 elections, which Capriles says are a "referendum" on the socialist government.
The National Assembly has already prosecuted two opposition deputies for corruption. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan justice system is investigating two opposition governors and opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.
Maduro said that "there are no untouchables" in his crusade against corruption, citing several examples of his own officials being arrested.
Former Venezuela president Hugo Chavez, who died on March 5, used special power to legislate in 2000, 2001, 2008 and 2010, periods when more than 200 laws where enacted.
Venezuela ranks 165 on a list of 176 countries in terms of its success in fighting corruption, according to an index compiled by Transparency International, released last December.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]