BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Venezuela's newly re-elected president, Hugo Chavez, should start preparing to hand over power, former two-time Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in a newspaper interview published on Thursday.
Chavez, who says he has fully recovered from cancer, beat opposition challenger Henrique Capriles by a resounding 11 percentage points on October 7, giving him a third term.
"There was an election in Venezuela, where two people ran, and I thought Chavez would be best for Venezuela. I also think that comrade Chavez should start preparing his succession," Lula, a close Chavez ally, was quoted as telling Argentine daily La Nacion.
Soon after his latest re-election victory, Chavez, 58, named Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro as vice president. Maduro has been seen as a possible successor to the flamboyant socialist leader since his cancer diagnosis in mid-2011.
The possibility of a recurrence of Chavez's cancer is the main wild card in Venezuelan politics, with constant speculation over who might replace him from within the ranks of the ruling Socialist Party should he become incapacitated.
Chavez was first elected in 1998 and took power early the next year. Were he to leave office within four years of his new six-year term, an election would have to be held within 30 days, opening the door for another opposition bid to take power via the ballot box.
Lula, who remains popular and influential in Latin America, handpicked Brazil's current president, Dilma Rousseff, to succeed him after serving the maximum two consecutive terms, whereas Chavez reformed the constitution and can seek indefinite re-election.
Speculation that Lula could run again - and that he picked his former Chief of Staff Rousseff to succeed him to keep the presidential seat warm for his return - is losing steam.
Like Chavez, Lula has recently suffered a bout of cancer and some political analysts say he is physically not up for another term in office after having chemotherapy and radiation for a tumor in his larynx.
(Reporting by Helen Popper and Andrew Cawthorne in Caracas; Editing by Eric Beech)