The Venezuelan government and opposition coincide that it is possible to postpone the oath taking ceremony of President Hugo Chavez, which according to the constitution should take place on 10 January, if the re-elected leader is still in Cuba recovering from his fourth cancer operation.
“The Constitution is very clear: the president at this moment is on a constitutional leave, voted unanimously by the National Assembly, so he can address his health situation. If that leave is to be extended beyond 10 January, the constitution comes in and he will surely have to take the oath later, before the Supreme Court”, said Vice-president Nicolás Maduro.
“At the precise moment the medical team so indicates and there are possibilities, the president will then take the presidential oath”, added Maduro following a mass in downtown Caracas for the health of Chavez.
Last 11 December Chavez flew to Cuba for his fourth cancer operation in 17 months. But following surgery and without a date for his return to Caracas, a debate surfaced as to whether the incoming president’s oath before the National Assembly could be postponed or not.
This week the head of the opposition Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez last October, came closer to the government’s position and accepted the possibility that the oath ceremony could be delayed.
“We must be very serious and transparent, a person does not lose his condition of president-elect if he can’t take office the day established”, said Capriles.
“If the president of the republic can not show up on 10 January to take the oath in his condition of president-elect, the Constitution has the replies to such a situation. First we would have a temporary absence and only after would the Constitution be implemented if the absence becomes absolute” underlined Capriles who recently confirmed his leadership of the opposition by winning the governorship of Miranda.
Under the Venezuelan constitution there are temporary presidential absences of 90 days that can be extended for an only time another 90 days, during which period the Vice-president takes office. But there are also absolute absences, which must be decreed by the National Assembly, which refer to death, resignation, removal or physical or mental incapacity.
If the absolute absence is voted before the president–elect takes office or in the first four years of government, presidential elections will have to be anticipated in the following thirty days.
The 1999 constitution under article 231 states that the president must take the oath of office before the National Assembly on 10 January. But likewise if “for any motive” he can’t take the oath before the Legislative branch, he can do so before the Supreme Court, but with no time limit established.
With his statement Capriles takes distance from the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Table which had indicated that the January 10 date is a deadline that can not be postponed and if Chavez did not turn up on that date, “an absolute absence” would have to be declared.
Meanwhile Vice president Maduro brought some relief by saying that Chavez was able to leave bed, to walk about and do some exercises as part of his post-operative recovery program.
Chavez called Maduro from Havana, Cuba, where he underwent surgery, and during the 20-minute conversation that we had, he was walking, doing some exercises that are part of his daily treatment, Maduro told state-run VTV by phone.
News of the call from Chavez, which Maduro said was a Christmas present, sparked a flurry of hopeful messages on social networking site Twitter by Venezuelans loyal to the ailing head of state.
Practically throughout the 20 minutes, about 15 minutes were given to instructions and orders on issues vital to the country's economy, social programs, the national program, said Maduro.