CARACAS President Hugo Chavez's move to rule by decree in response to Venezuela's floods shows he is more interested in positioning himself for a 2012 re-election than helping victims, an opposition leader said on Tuesday.
"The government is not bothered by the emergency. It is exploiting the situation to advance a political project," Henrique Capriles Radonski, governor of a large Venezuelan state, Miranda, that includes part of Caracas, told Reuters.
Capriles, whom some see as a potential rival to Chavez in the 2012 presidential election, was reacting to the president's imminent assumption of decree powers after floods that have left more than 130,000 Venezuelans homeless.
Chavez, who has taken personal charge of the rescue operation, says decree powers are necessary to inject money into housing and infrastructure building. But critics say it is a cynical ploy to bypass an incoming National Assembly next month that will have a greater opposition presence.
"To deal with the rains emergency, you don't need special powers in an Enabling Law -- and he wants them for 18 months? The government is making a mockery of the September 26 elections and taking advantage of the rains for that," Capriles said.
Chavez sought decree powers for 12 months in a law presented to parliament on Tuesday, his vice president said. Chavez had said on Monday the powers could extend for up to 18 months.
A rejuvenated and newly united opposition coalition won 40 percent of votes in the September parliamentary election and had hoped to put a brake on Chavez's power when the new National Assembly convenes on January 5. But Chavez effectively bypassed them by asking the outgoing assembly, which is dominated by his supporters, to give him decree powers.
'LESS AND LESS SUCCESSFUL'
"The president is proving less and less successful every day with his actions. He's obsessed with 2012," Capriles said.
Chavez has been crisscrossing the South American nation in recent days to visit flood zones, talk to victims and supervise rescue operations. He has allowed scores of homeless people to shelter at his presidential palace.
"Chavez is handling this crisis on the basis of a TV set. I know because I saw it in Higuerote," Capriles said, referring to a coastal resort town that both he and Chavez have visited.
"It is pure demagogy. He says he saw people with water up to their necks and that's false. I know where he went and the water was not up to that level."
Capriles said Chavez's announcement of an imminent rise in sales tax to raise money for the emergency was an insult to Venezuelans, given how much money had been wasted from the OPEC member's massive oil revenues.
"How much money has this government given away?" he said, in a reference to generous loans, oil deals and other facilities Venezuela has offered Cuba and other political allies around the world under Chavez's rule.
"Now Venezuelans have to pay for that."
(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Daniel Wallis)