CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan lawmakers voted on Tuesday to postpone the inauguration of ailing President Hugo Chavez for his new term, prompting complaints from opponents who called it a violation of the constitution.
Chavez’s congressional allies, who hold a majority of seats in the National Assembly, agreed with a government proposal for Chavez to be sworn in at a later date before the Supreme Court.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro broke the news that Chavez would not be able to attend Thursday’s scheduled inauguration in a letter to National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, confirming suspicions that Chavez’s battle with cancer and a related respiratory infection would keep him in a Cuban hospital past the key date. The president underwent his fourth cancer-related surgery last month and hasn’t spoken publicly in a month.
Maduro said that on the recommendation of Chavez’s medical team, his recovery process “should be extended beyond Jan. 10.”
The vice president said Chavez was invoking a provision in the constitution allowing him to be sworn in before the Supreme Court at a “later date.” The opposition disputed that argument and appealed to the Organization of American States, but did not appear to have other immediate routes to block the government’s plan.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said earlier Tuesday that Chavez’s current term constitutionally ends Thursday and that the Supreme Court should rule in the matter.
The Venezuelan Constitution says the presidential oath should be taken before lawmakers in the National Assembly on Jan. 10 but adds that the president may also take the oath before the Supreme Court if he’s unable to be sworn in before the assembly. Government officials argue that clause does not explicitly mention a date, though opponents say it clearly refers to the Jan. 10 deadline.