June 18, 2013
Venezuela opposition furious over likely Chávez inauguration delay
Venezuela's opposition has accused the government of violating the constitution by proposing to delay cancer-stricken President Hugo Chávez's inauguration Thursday for a new term amid growing uncertainty over the polarized OPEC nation's political future.
The socialist leader's allies say the January 10 inauguration date laid out in the constitution is just a "formality." They insist Chavez, who has not been heard from for almost a month after complex cancer surgery in Cuba, can take office when his health allows.
His adversaries say that would be running roughshod over the constitution as the former soldier remains in Havana and appears too weak to return to Venezuela after winning re-election in October for a third six-year term.
"If the president of the republic does not take office (on January 10), the country cannot be left in a power vacuum," said Tomas Guanipa of the opposition Justice First party, insisting that the head of Congress, Diosdado Cabello, should be sworn in temporarily.
The dispute centers on an article of the constitution that says a president-elect should be sworn in on January 10, but does not say what happens if the inauguration does not take place that date.
A fierce debate over the issue has deflected attention from the president's absence from the political scene and apparent inability to speak in a live broadcast.
The government, which has refused to discuss having Chávez temporarily step aside as he recovers, is providing only terse statements with bare-bones details of his condition.
On Monday, the information minister said Chávez's condition was "stationary" with respect to the last medical bulletin, released on Thursday, which described a "severe" pulmonary infection that has hindered the president's breathing.
The official position is that Chávez is still fulfilling his duties as head of state, despite his weak health.
For days, television networks have aired contrasting interpretations of the constitutional articles in question, with the opinions of constitutional lawyers and ad-hoc experts now filling social networks.
A Justice First leader has said the opposition could file complaints against the government with international agencies over the potential violation of constitutional protocol.
A popular political cartoonist depicted what appeared to be a wolf running with a copy of the constitution in its mouth, leaving a trail of pages behind it.
The opposition's Democratic Unity coalition has been holding meetings to hash out a unified stance on the issue.
One Chávez critic who called for a national strike via Twitter to protest the situation was ridiculed by the opposition as an extremist but quickly cited by the government as a sign that Chavez's critics want to destabilize the country.