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Venezuela's opposition party celebrates gains but waits for Chavez's 'Plan B'

Come January, President Hugo Chavez will lose the overwhelming majority he has enjoyed in congress since 2005 that has allowed him to recast his oil-rich nation as a model of "21st Century Socialism."

It's what happens from now until then that has many in the opposition worried.

Venezuela's firebrand president has said he will respect the "voice of the people" who turned out en masse Sunday but failed to give his Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) the two-thirds majority he wanted. But Chavez has a track record of still getting what he wants.

After the opposition won key mayoral and gubernatorial races in 2008, he stripped them of their power and created a new level of bureaucrats -- whom he appointed -- for them to report to.

Some worry a similar move is in the works.

In the months leading up to the race, Chavez and his cabinet floated the idea of giving community councils more power to craft laws -- shifting the emphasis away from the National Parliament.

On Monday, while the National Electoral Council was tallying the votes that give the PSUV a lead -- but not a commanding one -- state-run television stations ran a series of commercials promoting the idea of moving the country from a representative democracy to a participatory one.

To some, the move seems intended to neuter a revitalized congress that begins work in January.

"I think it's pretty clear that [Chavez] is going to abuse the power he has in the current National Assembly to create this parallel state entity," said Anibal Romero, a professor of political theory at Caracas Metropolitan University. "I think that Chavez has a Plan B. And Plan B is to asphyxiate the National Assembly."

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