A top Venezuelan opposition leader called late on Sunday for street protests if the government goes ahead with a plan to delay the inauguration of ailing President Hugo Chavez.
Julio Borges, national coordinator of the opposition Justice First party, also promised to file complaints with unspecified international organisations, if the January 10 swearing-in ceremony does not take place.
“People should get ready to protest and rebel against what will be a failure to uphold the constitution,” said Borges. “We are preparing a real campaign, which will involve going to institutions, countries, embassies and organisations outside of the country to let them know that authorities are trying to twist the constitution due to an internal problem.”
Chavez was re-elected on October 7 despite his debilitating battle with cancer and the strongest opposition challenge yet to his 14-year rule in Venezuela, an OPEC member with the world’s largest proven oil reserves.
Since then, Chavez has undergone surgery in Cuba and, according to the government, developed a “serious pulmonary infection” that has led to a “respiratory insufficiency”.
In the wake of word that Chavez was suffering complications, Vice President Nicolas Maduro called the swearing-in ceremony a “formality” and said Chavez’s inauguration can be indefinitely delayed without his giving up the powers of the presidency, even on a temporary basis.
The position was reaffirmed on Sunday by Venezuelan Attorney General Cilia Flores, who argued in a television interview that Chavez, who has not been seen in public in weeks, “could be sworn in upon his return in front of the Supreme Court”.
However, according to Borges, this would be unconstitutional.
“The constitution established a clear rule,” he said. “When the president-elect cannot show up at his inauguration and his absence is absolute, then another popularly elected person must step in. In this case, it is the National Assembly speaker.”
Under the constitution, new elections must be held within 30 days if the president dies or is permanently incapacitated either before he takes office or in the first four years of his six-year term.