Chavez Absence Won’t Derail Inauguration, Top Lawmaker Says

Venezuela’s congressional leader said it doesn’t matter if President Hugo Chavez doesn’t arrive for his scheduled Jan. 10 inauguration as the nation’s constitution doesn’t specify when and where the swearing must take place.

“The constitution is clear, if the president isn’t here for some reason on Jan. 10, he’ll be sworn in before the Supreme Court,” National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello said today in comments broadcast on state television. “Where? It doesn’t say where. When? It doesn’t say when.”

Chavez, who won a third presidential term on Oct. 7, has not appeared in public since flying to Cuba 16 days ago for his fourth operation to treat an undisclosed type of cancer. He said on Dec. 8 that voters should elect Vice President Nicolas Maduro to protect his legacy if his illness prevents him from remaining in office.

The opposition is concerned that the government may try to delay the swearing in and possible subsequent national elections if Chavez is too ill to take office. Opposition alliance leader Ramon Jose Medina said Chavez should arrive on Jan. 10 to take the presidential oath, arguing the date “is constitutionally set and can’t be changed for personal opinions or political convenience.”

Cabello said today that Chavez’s electoral victory outweighs swearing-in protocol.

“We can’t take away the wish of the majority from Oct. 7 simply to satisfy the Venezuelan bourgeoisie,” Cabello said.

Phone Call

Chavez phoned from Havana to order his Cabinet to start discussing economic policy this week, Maduro said on Dec. 24.

Under Venezuelan law, if Chavez steps down before Jan. 10, Maduro would see out the rest of the current term and then hand over power to Cabello, who must call for an election within 30 days. If Chavez is unable to start his new term Jan. 10 but does not step down, the National Assembly president must determine if the absence is temporary or absolute.

Venezuela’s Supreme Court is open to any constitutional questions that might emerge if Chavez is not able to be sworn in for a new six-year term on Jan. 10, Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales said Dec. 20.

“Chavez said that if for any reason he was unable, our comrade Nicolas Maduro was the one in charge,” Cabello said. “We all have to support him.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jose Orozco in Caracas at jorozco8@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jonathan Roeder at jroeder@bloomberg.net; Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net

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