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Venezuela VP hopes Chavez can be sworn in Jan. 10

Thursday - 12/20/2012, 2:18am  ET

A graffiti depicts an image of the eyes of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012. Chavez is recovering in Cuba from a surgery, his fourth operation related to his pelvic cancer since June 2011. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

VIVIAN SEQUERA
Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Venezuela's vice president said on Wednesday that the government is still aiming for President Hugo Chavez to be sworn in for a new term as scheduled next month, saying his condition has been improving after his cancer surgery in Cuba.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro declined to speculate when asked about scenarios if the ailing president is unable to take the oath of office on Jan. 10. He took the stance amid mounting concerns over the president's tough fight against complications following his fourth cancer-related operation, and a day after National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello floated the idea of postponing Chavez's inauguration if necessary.

"We're concentrating on prayer, on faith, on medical treatment that is among the best in the world, so that our commander in chief and president upholds his sacred duty on Jan. 10," Maduro said at a news conference. "Day after day ... he has been getting better, and he's the commander of a thousand victories, he's the commander of miracles."

Maduro, whom Chavez designated as his chosen successor before the surgery, also said that if Chavez isn't able to be sworn in as planned, "he left clear, public instructions about any scenario."

The 58-year-old president has not spoken publicly since his Dec. 11 surgery for pelvic cancer, and on Tuesday the government said he had a respiratory infection, though it was controlled. Chavez also suffered bleeding during the six-hour operation, which the government has said was promptly stanched.

Cabello raised the idea of postponing the inauguration on Tuesday, telling reporters it was simply his personal opinion and not an official proposal.

"You can't tie the will of the people to a date," Cabello said in remarks published by the newspaper El Nacional. "My idea is that we can't see the laws and the constitution from the restrictive point of view."

The constitution says the president should be sworn in for a new term on Jan. 10. Cabello expressed hope that Chavez could still be back for his swearing-in.

But Venezuelan analyst Edgar Gutierrez said that Cabello appeared to be sending a message that it might take longer, and that he believes pushing back the date is an option.

"It's the clearest signal that the president won't be in conditions to be sworn in," Gutierrez said. "Diosdado is preparing the field of opinion."

Cabello noted the constitution also says that if a president is unable to be sworn in by the National Assembly, he may be sworn in by the Supreme Court. "And it doesn't put a date" for that, he said, noting that there is no mention of a date in the article dealing with a swearing-in before the Supreme Court.

When Maduro was asked about the idea at Wednesday's news conference, he said: "We don't think it's favorable to enter into the field of speculation."

Cabello is one of the few government officials who have traveled to Cuba since Chavez's surgery, and his comments carry weight with the president's United Socialist Party of Venezuela, known as PSUV for its initials in Spanish. Cabello is an influential vice president of the party, and he was among the officials present at Maduro's news conference.

Asked about the possibility raised by Cabello, Maduro said that "any matter that has to be settled, we have our ... Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice, which has shown a great ability to interpret any subject in the constitution that's necessary."

Venezuela's opposition coalition took issue with Cabello's proposal, saying in a statement that the president should appear and be sworn in on the scheduled date, and that "it can't be modified on the basis of personal opinions or political conveniences." If the president does not appear, the opposition statement said, the constitution is clear that he should be declared absent and a new election should be called.

Law professor Vicente Gonzalez de la Vega, however, agreed with Cabello, saying the constitution allows for the swearing-in to be before the Supreme Court at a later date, which it doesn't specify.

"The only thing that ends Jan. 10 is the current (presidential) term," said Gonzalez, a professor at Central University of Venezuela.

Gonzalez said that lawmakers can request a medical report "to see whether he's getting better, whether he can come or not." And if not, he said, a transition process should then begin, including the calling of a new election.

If a president-elect dies or is declared incapacitated before the swearing-in, the constitution says the National Assembly president would temporarily take charge of the government and a new presidential vote would have to be held within 30 days. Chavez has said that if such a vote is held, his supporters should elect Maduro to take his place.

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