Prognosis for Chavez not looking too good
President Hugo Chavez’s formal swearing-in for a new six-year term scheduled for January 10 can be postponed if he is unable to attend due to his battle to recover from cancer surgery, Venezuela’s vice-president said on Friday.
Nicolas Maduro’s comments were the clearest indication yet that the Venezuelan government is preparing to delay the swearing-in while avoiding naming a replacement for Chavez or calling a new election in the South American OPEC nation.
In power since 1999, the 58-year-old socialist leader has not been seen in public for more than three weeks.
Allies say he is in delicate condition after a fourth operation in two years for an undisclosed form of cancer in his pelvic area.
The political opposition argues that Chavez’s presence on January 10 in Cuba – where there are rumors he may be dying – is tantamount to the president’s stepping down.
But Maduro, waving a copy of the constitution during an interview with state TV, said there was no problem if Chavez was sworn in at a later date by the nation’s top court.
“The interpretation being given is that the 2013-2019 constitutional period starts on January 10. In the case of President Chavez, he is a re-elected president and continues in his functions,” he said.
“The formality of his swearing-in can be resolved in the Supreme Court at the time the court deems appropriate in coordination with the head of state.”
In the increasing “Kremlinology”-style analysis of Venezuela’s extraordinary political situation, that could be interpreted in different ways: that Maduro and other allies trust Chavez will recover eventually, or that they are buying time to cement succession plans before an election.
Despite his serious medical condition, there was no reason to declare Chavez’s “complete absence” from office, Maduro said. Such a declaration would trigger a new vote within 30 days, according to Venezuela’s charter.
Social networks are abuzz with rumours that Chavez is on life support or facing uncontrollable metastasis of his cancer.
Chavez’s abrupt exit from the political scene would be a huge shock for Venezuela. His oil-financed socialism has made him a hero to the poor, while critics call him a dictator seeking to impose Cuban-style communism.
Should Chavez leave office, a new election is likely to pitch former bus driver and union activist Maduro against opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state. – Reuters
- Andrew Cawthorne and Deisy Buitrago