Venezuelan politicians allied with President Hugo Chavez said they plan to adopt rules that will punish any of their number who abandons the socialist leader.
The announcement came after Mr Chavez urged members of his United Socialist Party of Venezuela to pick candidates for congressional elections in September who “aren’t going to jump ship” after the voting.
Carlos Escarra, a governing party politician, said it was unclear what sort of sanctions could be applied.
“We are going to discuss that,” he said.
Government opponents said the initiative is aimed at intimidating politicians elected to the unicameral National Assembly on pro-Chavez platforms so they won’t shift to the opposition.
Mr Chavez’s allies counter that legislators who leave the party that helped them get elected commit an immoral act because they are subverting the will of the voters who cast ballots in their favour.
“If somebody gets into the assembly through a party, whose supporters backed him, and later jumps ship, he’s committing treason against his constituency, and that treason against his constituency must be punished,” Mr Escarra said.
Pro-Chavez parties won all 167 assembly seats in 2005 after major opposition parties boycotted the election. But 11 of those politicians since broke with Mr Chavez and his left-leaning coalition, citing what they call his authoritarian tendencies.
Wilmer Azuaje, one of the dissidents, said Mr Chavez is using the new rules to warn potential congressional candidates because he fears more politicians could shift loyalty – especially if domestic problems like electricity rationing and double-digit inflation worsen.
“It’s intimidation,” Mr Azuaje said. “I see it as a message for his allies, to say to them: ’If you jump, you’ll be punished’.”
Opposition parties hope to make a strong showing in September’s vote by holding Mr Chavez responsible for the country’s struggles with power shortages, rampant crime and a currency devaluation widely expected to push inflation above last year’s 25%.