“Venezuela’s opposition has accused the government of violating the constitution by proposing to delay cancer-stricken President Hugo Chávez’s inauguration Thursday for a new term amid growing uncertainty over the polarized OPEC nation’s political future,” Reuters reports.
Opposition figures demanded that the country’s senior court determine whether the inauguration could be postponed.
“There is a conflict here. What is the Supreme Court waiting on?” said Henrique Capriles, the de facto opposition leader who lost to Chávez in last October’s presidential elections. “We have a government that is totally paralyzed.”
Chávez’s would-be successors’ attempts to ignore Venezuela’s constitutional requirements for a transfer of power could backfire, observers suggest.
“Bypassing the constitution at this stage would make questionable the legitimacy of the government after January 10, raising considerable uncertainty and increasing the risk of a governability crisis,” analysts said today.
“Paradoxically, the delay of the transition could end up being politically costly for Chávismo, making them face a more difficult election in the future.”
The United States today wished Chávez a quick recovery from his struggle against cancer, but called for an inclusive and transparent approach to his possible succession.
“Obviously we are, as we would be for anybody suffering what he is suffering, concerned for his health, and wishing a speedy recovery,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
Venezuela’s top opposition leader Henrique Capriles on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to rule on whether Chávez’s re-inauguration planned for Thursday can be postponed, as his government has argued.
Chávez, a staunch leftist and foe of the United States, is scheduled to take the oath of office on Thursday following his October re-election. But he is recovering from cancer surgery in Havana, his fourth operation in 18 months, and it is not clear whether he will make it to the ceremony in Caracas.
“This is an issue for Venezuelans to decide and they need to do it in a manner that includes all the voices in the discussion,” Nuland told journalists. She suggested that any succession process should be “a broad-based discussion, and it needs to be decided in a manner that is free, fair, transparent, is seen as ensuring a level playing field in Venezuela.”
The democratic opposition insists that the constitution arguing that in the event of Chávez’s incapacity, the constitution requires the head of Congress, Diosdado Cabello, to be sworn in as interim president before fresh elections.
“If the president of the republic does not take office (on January 10), the country cannot be left in a power vacuum,” said Tomas Guanipa of the opposition Justice First party.
But the regime has rejected such demands.
“There is nothing here that would create a power vacuum and nothing that should give (the opposition) hope that Chávez will leave (office) on January 10,” said Cabello, a leader of the ruling Socialist Party and vice president Nicolás Maduro’s main rival for the leadership.
Opposition lawmaker Julio Borges argues that differences between the two men explain the expected postponement of Mr Chávez’s inauguration ceremony on Thursday, with Mr Maduro’s group attempting to prevent Mr Cabello from taking power.
“That big hug between Nicolás Maduro and Diosdado Cabello was set up to reflect unity that does not exist,” Borges told journalists. “While the president is sick in Havana, they have a power conflict. That’s why they are engendering this violation of the constitution.”
“They are the children of Chávez,” wrote Nicmer Evans, a leftist political scientist at the Central University of Venezuela.
“The two men with the revolutionary leader’s greatest trust have different origins but are part of the same team, and are obliged to become the people who enable the diverse factions of Chávismo to stay together,” he added.
The populist president’s heir apparent is known to be close to Communist Cuba, but few observers could have expected Nicolás Maduro to launch simultaneously a pro- Chávez cult of personality and a Soviet-style crackdown on hoarders.
“They run around the clock on state television, highly polished videos of President Hugo Chávez hugging children, kissing grandmothers, playing baseball and reciting poetry, William Neuman writes in The New York Times:
The government’s television barrage seems intent on reassuring loyalists — and anyone who might raise questions — that Mr. Chávez is still very much the head of the nation. By keeping his image front and center, analysts say, the government can bolster its position as the caretaker of his legacy, mobilize its supporters for the battle over interpreting the Constitution and build momentum for itself in elections should Mr. Chávez die or prove too sick to govern.
“They have combined the mechanisms of left-wing struggle with the best marketing team there is,” said political consultant J. J. Rendón.
He compared the saga over Mr. Chávez’s illness to a telenovela, one of the popular Latin American soap operas, with its unexpected plot twists that keep viewers on edge. “They are always prepared for different scenarios,” he said of the government.
“There is a process of converting Chávez into a myth with religious roots,” said Andrés Cañizalez, a communication professor at the Andrés Bello Catholic University.
The TV spots are part of “a political strategy to keep alive this idea that Chávez is not just a political leader but he’s the father of the country, he’s a patriarch, he’s a figure who protects us, who takes care of everything for us, something more than a president.”
The regime’s drive against alleged hoarders is typically populist and authoritarian in thrust, say observers.
“There isn’t a single example in the world of a country where controlling prices and threatening businesses has worked in solving shortages,” said Luis Vicente León, a pollster and economist. “[He] has opted for the most aggressive, most radical path: let’s get the businessmen, let’s get the oligarchy!” said León.
Government officials accused opposition leaders and external powers of sowing rumors about Chávez’s condition in order to undermine the regime.
“The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela warns the Venezuelan people against the psychological war that the web of transnational media has unleashed around the health of the head of state with the ultimate goal of destabilizing the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, denying the popular will expressed in the presidential election on Oct. 7 and ending the Bolivarian revolution led by Chávez,” Ernesto Villegas, the information minister, said in a special national broadcast.
But the Chávista propaganda campaign is really driven by domestic political considerations.
“It is very important to guarantee the emotion around Chávez, so that if he should go away it would be transferred to his substitute,” said León, a pollster associated with the opposition. “The more emotional and mythic he appears, the stronger will be his endorsement of Maduro.”