Heated constitutional debate in Venezuela

AP News
Posted: Jan 09, 2013 8:39 AM

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's congress has voted to postpone the inauguration of President Hugo Chavez, which was scheduled for Tuesday, to let him recover from cancer surgery in Cuba. Critics say that violates the country's constitution. The issues at a glance:

WHEN SHOULD IT HAPPEN: Article 231 of the Venezuelan Constitution says a new president "shall take office on January 10 ... by taking an oath before the National Assembly." But it adds: "If for any unforeseen reason, the President of the Republic cannot be sworn in before the National Assembly, he or she shall take the oath of office before the Supreme Court." Chavez loyalists note that clause does not explicitly mention a date for a swearing-in before the Court, and argue it can be carried out at a later date. Critics say the constitution is clear that one term ends on Jan. 10 and another begins, so officials appointed by Chavez in his previous term will no longer have legitimacy after that date.

IF IT'S DELAYED: Opposition politicians argue that the only option to postpone the ceremony is for Congress to approve a 90-day "temporary absence" for the president, leaving the head of the National Assembly as interim president for 90 days, a period that could be extended for an additional 90 days. Vice President Nicolas Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello argue that Chavez remains in his duties as president and that he should be granted more time to recover.

THE COURT: Opposition leaders say they plan to bring the issue before Venezuela's Supreme Court, which has the authority to rule on constitutional questions. On Tuesday, it rejected a challenge brought by one lawyer who argued that Cabello should temporarily assume the presidency.