Caracas: Venezuela’s ruling party and an opposition leader were in rare agreement on Monday that President Hugo Chavez’s 10 January inauguration could be delayed if he is still recovering from cancer surgery.
The firebrand leftist leader is experiencing a “slight improvement” in his condition as he follows doctors’ orders to rest following his most recent operation in Cuba, information minister Ernesto Villegas said.
Speaking in a radio and television address, Villegas said the president is in touch with his closest relatives and has been analyzing the results of regional elections on 16 December, in which the ruling party won 20 of 23 governorships, snatching four states previously held by the opposition.
Chavez, 58, has been in power since 1999. He won another six-year term in October’s presidential election, and is scheduled to be sworn in on 10 January, but his health has raised concerns over the future of his leftist movement.
Officials have never disclosed the type or severity of Chavez’s cancer, which was first diagnosed in June 2011, and he only designated a successor—vice-president Nicolas Maduro—earlier this month.
Maduro said Monday that Chavez could be sworn in by Supreme Court justices, which could pave the way for an oath from Cuba, where the president is recovering from his latest cancer treatment.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said he was ready to accept a possible delay in the inauguration.
“If the president cannot be present on 10 January to take the oath of office before the National Assembly, the constitution has the answers,” said Capriles, who lost the presidential election in October to Chavez.
His remarks put him at odds with other opposition leaders eager to call new elections if Chavez is unable to return to the country on time.
Chavez supporters claim that their leader can be sworn in late in accordance with Venezuela’s 1999 constitution, even though opposition leaders will likely insist on holding a new presidential vote.
Analysts say Chavez cannot take the oath of office abroad, even if he were to do so at a Venezuelan embassy with members of the Supreme Court present.
“If his permission needs to be extended beyond 10 January, the constitution would go into action and he would have to take the oath before the Supreme Court,” Maduro said on state television after a Christmas Eve mass in Caracas to pray for Chavez’s speedy recovery.
Maduro took to the airwaves again shortly before midnight, saying he had spoken to Chavez on the phone and that the ailing leader was in “good spirits”.
“He has been walking and doing the exercises that are part of his daily treatment,” Maduro said, without providing further details.
Under Venezuelan law, if Chavez resigns before the inauguration or otherwise has an “absolute absence”, National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello would temporarily assume office and elections would be held within 30 days.
In the case of a president’s “temporary absence”, however, the constitution says the vice-president must fill in for up to 90 days, with the National Assembly able to extend it for a further 90 days.
Chavez—the face of the Latin American left for more than a decade and a firebrand critic of US “imperialism”—had asserted before embarking on his arduous re-election campaign earlier this year that he was cancer-free.
But he was later forced to admit he had suffered a recurrence of the disease. He returned to Cuba, a key Venezuelan ally, for surgery and follow-up treatment.
Officials have never given the location of the cancer, but have said Chavez had at least one tumor removed from his pelvic area.
Venezuela, which sits atop the world’s largest proven oil reserves, has largely bankrolled communist Cuba’s planned economy since the fall of the Soviet Union, and Chavez is seen as a political heir to Fidel Castro.