Venezuela's vice-president said on Wednesday that the government is still aiming for President Hugo Chávez to be sworn in for a new term as scheduled in three weeks, 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 January 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 Chávez'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 January 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 Chávez designated as his chosen successor before the surgery, also said that if Chávez 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 December 11 surgery for pelvic cancer, and on Tuesday the government said he had a respiratory infection, though it was controlled.
Chávez also suffered bleeding during the six-hour operation, which the government has said was promptly staunched.
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 January 10. Cabello expressed hope that Chávez could still be back for his swearing-in.
sending a message
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 favourable to enter into the field of speculation."
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.
"The only thing that ends January 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.
Chávez has said that if such a vote is held, his supporters should elect Maduro to take his place.
Former Supreme Court magistrate Roman Duque Corredor has ruled out the possibility of authorities going to Cuba for a swearing-in, saying a president cannot take the oath of office outside Venezuela.
"This could include postponing the date of the inauguration for the new term, if needed, or even taking advantage of any legal technicality that could see Chávez formally inaugurating his mandate from Cuba," Moya-Ocampos said.
"This will all, of course, depend on Chávez's state of health and what is more strategically convenient to those making the decisions."
The Venezuelan leader underwent his latest operation after tests found his cancer had come back despite previous surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
He had said in July that tests showed he was cancer-free, and he was re-elected in October.