Venezuela will not call fresh elections if Hugo Chavez’s cancer prevents him from taking office by January 10, the head of Congress said, despite a constitutional mandate that the swearing-in take place on that date. “Since Chavez might not be here in on January 10, [the opposition] hopes the National Assembly will call elections within 30 days. They’re wrong. Dead wrong,” said Diosdado Cabello, the National Assembly’s president and one of Chavez’s closest allies, during a ceremony to swear in a recently elected governor. “That’s not going to happen because our president is named Hugo Chavez, he was reelected and is in the hearts of all Venezuelans.”
He suggested Chavez may need more time to recover from his surgery. Officials in recent weeks have recognised his condition was serious, and the garrulous leader’s unusual silence has sparked alarm even among supporters.
Chavez is recovering in Cuba from a six-hour cancer operation that followed his October re-election. The socialist leader has not been heard from for nearly two weeks, raising doubts as to whether he will be fit to continue governing.
Opposition leaders may pounce on the issue of the swearing-in date to demand that authorities call fresh elections because of Chavez’s apparently critical state of health due to an undisclosed type of cancer in the pelvic region.
A constitutional dispute over succession could lead to a messy transition toward a post-Chavez era in the South American nation with the world’s largest oil reserves.