Opponents seek Chavez court ruling

Capriles with the Venezuelan constitution Capriles said only the Supreme Court could solve Venezuela's "constitutional crisis"

Venezuela's opposition leader Henrique Capriles has urged the Supreme Court to rule on a dispute over what happens if President Hugo Chavez is not sworn in.

Mr Capriles says the constitution sets 10 January as a deadline, and if Mr Chavez cannot be sworn in, the National Assembly leader should act as caretaker president until new elections are held.

The government argues the inauguration is a formality for an incumbent leader.

Mr Chavez, in hospital in Cuba after cancer surgery, is unlikely to attend.

In a news conference to discuss the constitutional row over Mr Chavez's inauguration, Mr Capriles said Venezuelans had voted for President Chavez, not his vice-president and ministers.

With 48 hours to go until the inauguration, it was inconceivable that the government had still not revealed if Mr Chavez would be able to attend, said Mr Capriles.

"There is a constitutional conflict in Venezuela. I don't know what the Supreme Court magistrates are waiting for," he said.

"The country is waiting for a clear interpretation of what the constitution says."

'Avoid confrontation'

Venezuelan constitution

  • Article 231: The president-elect shall take office on 10 January of the first year of their constitutional term, by taking an oath before the National Assembly. If for any reason, (they) cannot be sworn in before the National Assembly, they shall take the oath of office before the Supreme Court.
  • Article 233:(...) When there is an absolute absence of the president-elect before taking office, there shall be a new election by universal, direct and secret vote within the next 30 consecutive days. Pending the election and inauguration of the new president, the president of the National Assembly will assume responsibility for the presidency of the Republic.
  • If the absence of the president of the Republic occurs during the first four years of the constitutional period, there shall be a new election by universal, direct and secret vote within 30 consecutive days. Pending the election and inauguration of the new president, the executive vice-president will be responsible for the presidency of the Republic.
  • Article 234: When the president is temporarily unable to serve, they shall be replaced by the executive vice-president for a period of up to 90 days, which may be extended by resolution of the National Assembly for an additional 90 days.

Mr Chavez, 58, has been in power since 1999 but has not been seen in public since his latest operation last month, and government officials have acknowledged that he has suffered complications caused by a lung infection.

His condition was "stable", and he was "responding to the treatment", said Information Minister Ernesto Villegas in his latest update.

Mr Capriles said the constitution states that Mr Chavez's term ends on 10 January. The Speaker of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, should take power, albeit temporarily, if Mr Chavez is unfit to take his oath on Thursday, Mr Capriles said.

"Mr Chavez does not cease to be president if he cannot attend the inauguration. But you cannot have a power void, and that is in the constitution."

Government officials have stated that Mr Chavez will remain in power beyond 10 January, as his absence is only temporary. Attorney General Cilia Flores said that his oath can be taken at a later date.

Mr Cabello called Chavez supporters to take to the streets of Caracas on Thursday to show support to President Chavez.

He added that foreign heads of state would be at the Miraflores Presidential Palace on inauguration day.

Mr Capriles, who has recently been elected governor of Miranda state, said he would do anything to avoid a confrontation.

"We are not going to call the people to take to the streets on 10 January. That is what the government wants. We are not going to fall for that."

He added that the country has "serious economic problems" that are being overlooked.

Henrique Capriles was defeated in the 7 October presidential election. He received 44% of the vote to 55% of Mr Chavez.

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