Cabello to Remain Head of Venezuela’s National Assembly

Venezuelan lawmakers elected Diosdado Cabello to remain as president of the National Assembly, paving the way for him to take over the government should President Hugo Chavez be declared too ill to stay head of state.

“I swear to do all I need to do to fulfill the word of this revolution’s leader,” Cabello said in a nationally televised address after the vote today, referring to Chavez. “And so the people that voted in October won’t feel defrauded.”

Vice President Nicolas Maduro said yesterday that Chavez, who is recovering from cancer surgery in Cuba, will remain in power even if he fails to attend an inauguration ceremony on Jan. 10. That would leave Maduro as the de-facto head of the government. Cabello will only become the acting head of state if Chavez doesn’t swear in as president and is then declared too ill to perform his functions.

The president is experiencing a “severe” respiratory infection that is making it hard for him to breathe after undergoing his fourth surgery in 18 months, the Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said late Jan. 3.

Ramon Jose Medina, the deputy head of the opposition alliance, warned on Jan. 3 that the National Assembly President must take over the presidency if Chavez’s health impedes him from assuming his third six-year term. Any changes to the process laid out in the constitution would be regarded as a “coup,” he said.

‘Whenever Possible’

Maduro yesterday rejected that interpretation of the constitution. The nation’s charter is flexible, and if needed the Supreme Court can set the date, manner and location Chavez will be sworn in for the third, six-year term he won in the October election, he said.

“Chavez on that day remains in power and will be sworn in whenever possible,” Maduro said in an hour-long interview broadcast on state television, warning the opposition against trying to carry out a “coup” by interpreting to its advantage the charter’s provisions for a presidential succession.

If Chavez dies, or his absence is declared “absolute,” the National Assembly president must call an election within 30 days, Jorge Pabon, a constitutional lawyer and former dean of the law school at the Central University of Venezuela, said Dec. 19 in a telephone interview.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jose Orozco in Caracas at jorozco8@bloomberg.net; Corina Pons in Caracas at crpons@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net

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