Don’t look now, but Venezuela’s turning into a dictatorship:

President Hugo Chavez is set to assume unbridled powers to remake Venezuelan society as the National Assembly prepares to grant him authority to enact sweeping measures by presidential decree.

The assembly, which is completely controlled by Chavez supporters, is scheduled to meet Wednesday in a Caracas plaza to approve a so-called “enabling law” that will give Chavez special powers for 18 months to transform 11 broadly defined areas, including the economy, energy and defense.

Chavez, who is beginning a fresh six-year term, says the legislation will be the start of a new era of “maximum revolution” during which he will consolidate Venezuela’s transformation into a socialist society. His critics, however, are calling it a radical lurch toward authoritarianism by a leader with unchecked power.