No new vote in Venezuela if Chavez sworn in late: official

Sat Dec 22, 2012 4:42pm EST
 

By Brian Ellsworth and Eyanir Chinea

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela will not call fresh elections if Hugo Chavez's cancer prevents him from taking office by January 10, the head of Congress said on Saturday, despite a constitutional mandate that the swearing-in take place on that date.

Chavez is recovering in Cuba from a six-hour cancer operation that followed his October re-election. The socialist leader has not been heard from for nearly two weeks, raising doubts as to whether he will be fit to continue governing.

Opposition leaders may pounce on the issue of the swearing-in date to demand that authorities call fresh elections because of Chavez's apparently critical state of health due to an undisclosed type of cancer in the pelvic region.

A constitutional dispute over succession could lead to a messy transition toward a post-Chavez era in the South American nation with the world's largest oil reserves.

"Since Chavez might not be here in on January 10, (the opposition) hopes the National Assembly will call elections within 30 days. They're wrong. Dead wrong," said Diosdado Cabello, the National Assembly's president and one of Chavez's closest allies, during a ceremony to swear in a recently elected governor.

"That's not going to happen because our president is named Hugo Chavez, he was reelected and is in the hearts of all Venezuelans."

He suggested Chavez may need more time to recover from his surgery. Officials in recent weeks have recognized his condition was serious, and the garrulous leader's unusual silence has built up alarm even among supporters.

The constitution says "the elected candidate will assume the Presidency of the Republic on January 10th of the first year of their constitutional term, via swearing-in by the National Assembly."   Continued...

 
A supporter of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez holds a picture of him, as he attends a mass to pray for Chavez's health in Caracas December 19, 2012. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins