Maduro Grants Unprecedented Powers to Vice President

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro signed an executive order on January 26 delegating fifteen wide-reaching powers to newly appointed Vice President Tarek El Aissami, fueling rumors over his possible succession plans. The decree, made public on January 30 through the country’s official gazette, authorizes El Aissami to approve ministries’ budgets, to expropriate private businesses, to appoint vice ministers and executive staff of state-owned enterprises, and to create and dissolve government agencies, among other powers.

The decree also notes that El Aissami must present a monthly account of all actions executed to be published in the official gazette and subject to review by the president.

On the economic front, the decree enables the vice president to grant total or partial exemptions for both national sales taxes on certain goods and for income taxes applied to private enterprises.

President Maduro justified the transfer of presidential powers with the “supreme commitment and will to achieve the greatest political efficiency and revolutionary quality in the construction of socialism.” He later added that the move is intended to regenerate efficiency in a country struggling with triple-digit inflation and widespread shortages of food, medicine, and other basic goods.

Yet, the recent appointment of El Aissami—a self-professed radical—as the country’s new vice president is a key strategy in light of the Venezuelan opposition’s push for a recall referendum against Maduro. Under the country’s constitution, a successful recall referendum this year would lead to El Aissami taking over for the remainder of Maduro’s term.

Opposition leader Jesús Torrealba responded to the decree, asserting that the decision represents a “progressive empowerment” of El Aissami seeking to gradually transform him into a “possible presidential candidate” of the socialist ruling party.

The son of a Lebanese mother and a Syrian father, El Aissami is one of the most radical figures of the Left and has been reportedly investigated by the U.S. for his ties to the Islamic militant group Hezbollah and possible involvement in drug trafficking.

While analysts note it is too early to determine what the measure means for Venezuela’s muddled opposition, it is clear El Aissami’s new powers elevate him above potential competitors.