CARACAS - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's formal swearing-in for a new six-year term scheduled for Jan 10 can be postponed if he is unable to attend due to his struggle to recover from cancer surgery, his vice president said on Friday.
Nicolas Maduro's comments were the clearest yet that Venezuela's government is preparing to delay the swearing-in while avoiding naming a replacement or calling a new election in the South American OPEC nation.
The political opposition argues that Chavez's presence on that date in Cuba - where there are rumors he may be dying from complications after his latest operation on Dec 11 - is tantamount to the president's stepping down.
A family rides a motorcycle past a mural depicting Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in Caracas Jan 4, 2013. [Photo/Agencies]
But Maduro, waving a copy of the constitution during an interview with state TV, said there was no problem if Chavez was sworn in at a later date by the nation's top court.
"The formality of his swearing-in can be resolved in the Supreme Court," he said.
Despite his serious medical condition, there was no reason to declare Chavez's "complete absence" from office, Maduro said. Such a declaration would trigger a new election within 30 days, according to Venezuela's charter.
Chavez was conscious and fighting to recover, said Maduro, who traveled to Havana to see his boss this week.
"We will have the Commander well again," he said.
Maduro, whom Chavez named as his preferred successor should he be forced to leave office, said Venezuela's opposition had no right to go against the will of the people as expressed in the Oct 7 vote to re-elect the president.
"The president right now is president ... Don't mess with the people. Respect democracy."