Chávez presence at swearing-in not necessary, says vice-president


Fears of a constitutional crisis in Venezuela grew over the weekend after the country’s vice-president said Hugo Chávez could remain in power even if he is unable to attend Thursday’s swearing-in for a new presidential term.

Clutching a copy of the country’s constitution, Nicolás Maduro told a television audience on Friday night the constitutional clause requiring the president’s presence at the swearing-in is just a “formalism” and that from January 10th Mr Chávez would automatically start serving his new term.

He said Mr Chávez – who is being treated for cancer in Cuba and has not been seen or heard in public since December 8th – could take the oath of office before the country’s supreme court when well enough.

Mr Maduro’s intervention was the clearest signal yet that the leadership of President Chávez’s political movement is preparing for his absence on Thursday. On Saturday the re-elected head of the country’s National Assembly Diosdado Cabello said Mr Chávez “will continue being president of the Republic beyond January 10th” even if he does not attend his swearing in.

But the opposition has described the weekend’s manoeuvring by the president’s supporters as “unsustainable”.

“The government does not want to admit that the president is absent,” said Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, the executive secretary of the main opposition alliance which is calling on the government to organise new elections if necessary.

Article 231 of Venezuela’s constitution, which was pushed through in 1999 shortly after Mr Chávez was first elected president, states that a new president must be sworn in before the National Assembly on January 10th but states that “if for whatever reason” he cannot then he may be sworn in before the supreme court.

Mr Maduro’s statement seems to indicate that the government believes this releases Mr Chávez of his obligation to be present in Venezuela on Thursday.