“It was time to tell the truth to the country,” said Maria Corina Machado, an opposition member of the National Assembly. “Venezuela has been living with a lot of uncertainty. In a democratic country where the constitution is obeyed, the president must talk about his health when it is compromised.”
Should Chavez die or have to resign, the constitution calls for Venezuela to stage presidential elections within 30 days. Maduro, a 50-year-old former union organizer and bus driver who has risen through the ranks of Chavez’s movement, would become the candidate of the president’s United Socialist Party.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez named his vice president as his chosen successor and was heading back to Cuba on Sunday for more surgery after announcing that his cancer has returned.
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The constitution also requires that the vice president fill in for the president should he be temporarily absent. Chavez has spent many weeks in Cuba in the past 18 months, undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments. But he has remained in charge of the government, signing decrees and bills from Havana.
Machado said the opposition will call for a strict interpretation of the constitution now that Chavez has suggested the possibility of stepping aside.
“Article 233 of the constitution is clear about the only mechanism, an election within 30 days,” she said. “He can’t name a successor. It’s the Venezuelan people who decide.”
An election would mean a contest between Maduro and the opposition’s leader, Henrique Capriles.
Capriles lost to Chavez in the presidential election held Oct. 7, with the incumbent winning 55 percent of the vote to the challenger’s 44 percent. Polls, though, have shown that Capriles is more popular in Venezuela than all of Chavez’s closest associates, including Maduro.
The president’s swearing-in for another six-year term is scheduled for Jan. 10, but his announcement, following weeks in which he remained out of public view, raised questions about whether the inauguration will take place.
“This is how life goes,” Chavez said in his televised address, which prompted his followers to gather in churches and public squares to pray and chant slogans supporting him. “God willing, I hope to be able to give you good news in the coming days.”