Venezuela assembly vote has key implications

CNN
POSTED: Saturday, January 5, 2013 - 2:33pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 8:14am

Venezuelan lawmakers on Saturday reelected Diosdado Cabello as president of the country's National Assembly, a key post in the country's political future as President Hugo Chavez's health is uncertain.

Electing a leader for the National Assembly is usually an event of local interest only, but this year the importance of the vote was magnified because the winner could serve as interim president if Chavez does not survive or is incapacitated.

Chavez has said he wants Vice President Nicolas Maduro to be his successor, and there are reports of tensions among Chavez's allies between factions backing the Cabello and those backing Maduro.

The reelection of Cabello by Chavez's majority party confirmed that despite any tensions, there were no efforts to marginalize his political standing.

Chavez, 58, has not been seen in public since arriving in Cuba for his fourth cancer operation more than three weeks ago, which has fueled speculation that his health is worse than the government is letting on.

Maduro said Friday that Chavez is "fighting for his health."

The president's illness has cast doubt on whether he will be able to be inaugurated next week for his fourth term. There is debate over what the constitution requires for a president to take the oath of office in this circumstance.

If Chavez is unable to be sworn in before lawmakers on January 10 as scheduled, the constitution says Chavez can do so before the country's Supreme Court. But the wording of the constitution isn't clear on whether the inauguration before the Supreme Court must happen January 10, whether it must occur inside the country, and who should run Venezuela in the meantime.

Maduro said the government believes that a swearing in before the Supreme Court can happen at a later date, and hinted that Chavez would remain president after the 10th because he was reelected in October.

Chavez political opponents say a failure to swear in next weeks signifies that the president is permanently absent from his post, and that the national assembly president should take interim control while new elections are called in 30 days.

Maduro slammed the opposition for what he said was trying to take advantage of the situation and steal power.

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