Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is recovering from cancer surgery in Cuba, will not attend his inauguration, scheduled for January 10. Chavez’s health problems have fueled political uncertainty and fears of outside meddling.
Government officials said Tuesday that the swearing-in would be postponed as the 58-year-old president is not fit to return to Caracas by Thursday.
"The commander president wants us to inform that, based on his medical team's recommendations, the post-operative recovery should extend past January 10," Vice President Nicolas Maduro said in a letter read to the country's legislature.
No particular date has been announced, but the letter stated that Chavez will be sworn in before the Supreme Court instead of the legislature.
According to the Venezuelan Constitution, the presidential oath should be taken before lawmakers in the National Assembly on January 10, but the president may also take the oath before the Supreme Court if he or she is unable to be sworn in before the assembly. The constitution however does not specify what happens if the president does not take office on this particular date.
The delay has outraged the opposition, which insists that the president should attend the swearing-in on January 10, underlining that the government’s term ends on Thursday.
Opposition leaders argue that Congress chief Diosdado Cabello should take over – as mandated by the constitution – if the president's absence is formally declared. However, Cabello, a close Chavez ally, has stated that the president continues to be in charge.
"Venezuela is not a monarchy. Ours is not the Cuban system where power is passed around without an election," opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost last year's presidential election to Chavez, told reporters on Tuesday.
Maduro has called the inauguration ceremony a "formality," accusing the opposition of erroneously interpreting the constitution.
On Wednesday, however, the Supreme Court ruled the delay was legal. Commenting on the decision, Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales said it was "absurd" to consider Chavez's treatment in Cuba as an unauthorized absence
On Monday, the government said that Chavez was “stable" in a Cuban hospital receiving treatment for a severe respiratory infection. It added that he's coping with “respiratory deficiency”, but did not specify the severity. Chavez has not appeared in public since undergoing his fourth cancer surgery on December 11.
Pepe Escobar, from Asia Times Online, told RT that many could try to take advantage of the situation to undermine Chavez's government.
In the case that Chavez's health takes a turn for the worse, there will be an internal power struggle among his allies, Escobar told RT. “And at the same time we are going to have more possibilities of foreign interference trying to maneuver this process, and I mean specially our friends in Washington.”
He maintains that even if a new election those endorsed by Chavez will remain frontrunners. “In the last elections, Chavez won with over 60 per cent of the vote. The absolute majority of Venezuela's population is in favor of what’s been happening for these past 13 years.”
“Chavismo without Chavez would remain in terms of developing Venezuela,” Escobar said, adding that the question would be, who is going to lead it.