The New York Times reports on a disturbing development in Caracas. It is becoming increasingly clear that allies of President Hugo Chavez plan to flout the terms of the Venezuelan constitution in the event that the long-standing leader is unable to attend the January 10 inauguration. The physical presence of the elected president is required by the Venezuelan constitution, but this doesn’t seem to concern the Chavistas. According to the report:
The Constitution calls for a newly elected president to take office on Jan. 10 by being sworn in before the National Assembly. It goes on to say that “if, for any unexpected reason, the president of the republic cannot take possession before the National Assembly, he will do it before the Supreme Court of Justice.”
Diosdado Cabello, the head of the National Assembly, said last week that because the second clause did not contain a date or indicate a place, the swearing-in could happen at any time.
On Monday, Vice President Nicolás Maduro also said there was room in the Constitution to delay the swearing-in. The president had received permission from the National Assembly to be out of the country indefinitely for his cancer operation, and the permission could be extended past Jan. 10, said Mr. Maduro, whom Mr. Chávez said he wanted to succeed him if he could not continue in office. “The Constitution is very clear,” Mr. Maduro said.
The opposition and constitutional scholars disagree with the Chavista interpretation:
José Vicente Haro, a professor in constitutional law at Andrés Bello Catholic University, had a different view. He said government officials were trying to argue that because Mr. Chávez was re-elected, his old term could simply be extended without a formal swearing-in. He called that an incorrect interpretation and said that after Jan. 10 the cabinet ministers appointed by Mr. Chávez in his current term could no longer hold office.
Mr. Haro, who has served as a consultant to the political coalition opposed to Mr. Chávez, said, “Without doubt there is a constitutional crisis, and it is of such gravity that the legislative power, the executive power and the Supreme Court have had to make statements trying to clear up the doubts and uncertainty that they themselves have created because they don’t want to follow the Constitution.”