Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro will take over as interim president of the country while elections are organized within 30 days following the death of Hugo Chavez, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua announced on Tuesday.
“Companion-commander Chavez clearly spelled out what should happen if he were to die in a December 8 speech before travelling to Cuba for cancer surgery”, Jaua said.
“The vice president assumes power and elections are called in the next 30 days” pointed out Jaua in an interview on state television. “It’s the order that President Hugo Chavez gave us Dec. 8 and he asked us, the revolutionary Venezuelans, to accompany Nicolas Maduro in this task.”
Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, had been running the country in Chavez’s absence after the former paratrooper was operated on in Cuba Dec. 11. His convalescence in Cuba sparked a constitutional crisis after the Supreme Court ruled he could skip his own swearing-in ceremony for a new term.
As he didn’t take the oath for a new term, the constitution states that National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello should take over, said Leonardo Palacios, a constitutional lawyer at the Andres Bello Catholic University.
“The constitution is clear that in such cases the president of National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, has to assume temporary power,” Palacios said. “What we are seeing today are political machinations. Maduro’s decision to remain in power would be absolutely unconstitutional.”
Cabello, speaking on state television after Chavez’s death was announced, said he would “accompany the people in whatever they decide,” without adding further details. Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales called on Venezuelans to show confidence in Venezuelan institutions.
Maduro, 50, joined the circle of followers of Chavez before he became president in 1999. He first met Chavez in 1994 when the then paratrooper was released from prison after leading a failed military coup against an elected government. Inspired by Chavez’s blend of socialism and populism, Maduro had campaigned for his freedom.
After Chavez won the presidential election in 1998, Maduro joined the assembly that drafted a new constitution. He later became Speaker of the National Assembly before joining the cabinet as foreign minister in 2006. For the next six years, Maduro was a loyal purveyor of “Chavismo” around the world. He is married to Cilia Flores, a lawyer that defended Chavez when he was jailed for rebellion and later became Venezuela’s Attorney General.
Maduro is perceived by Chavez as a negotiator with diplomatic skills who could potentially gather the support of the different factions and keep it united in the difficult months ahead, said Diego Moya-Ocampos, an analyst with the London-based consulting firm IHS Global Insight.
Nevertheless, he is not necessarily perceived as such within all the top ranks of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela and the armed forces, Moya-Ocampos added.
Jennifer McCoy, a political science professor at Georgia State University, described Maduro as an easygoing man who has shown a willingness to talk with government opponents.
He's always been someone who is easy to talk to, said McCoy, director of the Americas program at the Carter Centre, which helped the Organization of American States facilitate dialogue between the government and opposition after a 2002 coup that briefly ousted Chavez.
Maduro was always willing to discuss the issues, and I think that's really important going forward for Venezuela, McCoy said.
Before Chavez underwent his latest operation in December, he explained why he had chosen Maduro: He's one of the young leaders with the greatest ability to continue, if I'm unable to — God knows what he does — if I'm unable to, to continue with his firm hand, with his gaze, with his heart of a man of the people, with his gift for people, with his intelligence, with the international recognition he's earned, with his leadership, leading the presidency.