CARACAS, VENEZUELA: Venezuela’s vice president said Friday that President Hugo Chavez could be sworn in by the Supreme Court later on if he’s not able to take the oath of office Thursday before lawmakers because of his struggle with cancer.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro made the comment in a televised interview Friday night, dismissing the argument by some opposition leaders that new elections must be called if Chavez doesn’t take office as scheduled on Thursday.
Maduro says Chavez, as a re-elected president, remains in office beyond the swearing-in date stipulated in the constitution, and could be sworn in if necessary before the Supreme Court at a date to be determined.
As for the opposition, Maduro said, “they should respect our constitution.” The vice president held up a small copy of the constitution and read aloud passages relating to such procedures.
Opposition leaders have demanded that the government provide more specific information about Chavez’s condition, and say a new election should be held within 30 days if the president doesn’t return to Venezuela by inauguration day. But Maduro echoed other Chavez allies in suggesting the inauguration date is not a hard deadline, and in saying the president should be given more time to recover from his cancer surgery if necessary.
The government revealed this week that Chavez is fighting a severe lung infection and receiving treatment for “respiratory deficiency” more than three weeks after undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba. The announcement suggests a deepening crisis for the 58-year-old president and has fed speculation that he likely is not well enough to travel to Caracas for the inauguration.
Chavez hasn’t spoken publicly or been seen since his Dec. 11 operation in Cuba. In a Thursday night update, the government for the first time described the president’s respiratory infection as “severe,” the strongest confirmation yet that Chavez is having serious trouble breathing after days of rumors about his condition worsening.
The government’s characterization raised the possibility that Chavez might be breathing with the assistance of a machine. But the government did not address that question and didn’t give details of the president’s treatment.