Punto Fijo, January 7th, 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Leaders of Venezuela’s opposition parties are calling it a “violation of the constitution” if Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez continues as president after January 10th, the date set for his swearing-in ceremony, and argue that he should be replaced by the president of the National Assembly.
According to several opposition leaders, if President Chavez cannot be present by this Thursday to be sworn-in, he should no longer be considered president of Venezuela, and the president of the National Assembly should take over until new elections are called with 30 days.
“The President of the Republic cannot take possession without the swearing-in process,” said opposition politician Maria Corina Machado yesterday, considering it to be a “coup d’état” if this does not occur on January 10th. It is unlikely that Chavez, who is still in Cuba recovering from cancer surgery, would be able to return by the January 10th swearing-in ceremony, something government officials have assured can be postponed.
However, the opposition coalition MUD (Mesa de la Unidad Democática) called it a “flagrant violation of the constitution” if the Chavez government stays in power beyond the January 10th date, despite the fact that Chavez was reelected in October for the 2013-1019 period.
Opposition leaders base their argument on Article 231 of Venezuela’s constitution, which says that the candidate elected as president must take possession by swearing the oath of office in front of the National Assembly on January 10th of the first year of their term.
If Chavez cannot be sworn-in for his next term, they argue, his absence should be declared an “absolute absence” and the president of the National Assembly must take over the presidency.
However, Article 231 also says that in the event of unforeseen circumstances the president can take possession before the Supreme Court, and does not say anything about the president being replaced by the president of the National Assembly in the event the January 10th date is missed.
Venezuelan state officials have pointed out that opposition parties are attempting to use a technicality to overturn the will of the electorate.
“They are trying to play that game again, trying to muddy the waters and destabilize the country to see if they can accomplish what they haven’t been able to accomplish through the ballot box,” said Solicitor General Celia Flores, who also denounced calls for a “general strike” by some opposition activists.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro accused the opposition of attempting to carry out a coup d’état by spreading false interpretations of the constitution both nationally and internationally.
According to Maduro, opposition coalition head Guillermo Aveledo sent out letters to foreign ambassadors in Venezuela with the purpose of “spreading a false argument about what the National Constitution says”.
“These interpretations are coming from the right-wing, who think that their moment has arrived. They are launching a national and international offensive against the Venezuelan people, and attempting to take advantage of the circumstances to destabilize the country and destroy the Bolivarian Revolution,” said Maduro on television last Friday.
However, not all opposition leaders agree with the interpretations of Venezuela’s constitution that Chavez's absence must be declared "absolute."
Constitutional attorney Hermán Escarrá, long a supporter of the opposition and member of the constitutional assembly that drafted the 1999 constitution, said yesterday that the popular will should be respected, regardless of when the president is sworn-in.
“It would be truly grave if some sectors of society were able to revoke the popular will expressed by the people who ratified President Chavez as president. He is the re-elected president who has complete democratic and constitutional legitimacy,” said Escarrá.
Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles has given a similar opinion, saying that the January 10th date could be postponed in the case Chavez cannot be present, and that it could be considered a “temporary absence”, which is allowed for in Article 234 of the constitution.
In any case, Escarrá assured that the Venezuelan Supreme Court, as the highest authority on the constitution, would make an official announcement on the interpretation of Article 231 in the coming days.
President of the National Assembly re-elected
President of the National Assembly Diodado Cabello was also re-elected to this position on Saturday by majority vote of the parliament members.
In the case that Chavez cannot continue as president, it would then be Cabello, as president of the National Assembly who would take over the presidency temporarily until new elections could be held.
Also elected on Saturday were Darío Vivas as first vice president of the Assembly, and Blanca Eeckout as second vice president.