President Hugo Chavez is dead. This is no longer breaking news; most of the world is fully aware of the passing of the late president of Venezuela. The issue the international public must now attempt to understand is the fate of post-Chavez Venezuela.
The Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela mandates that elections be held in Venezuela 30 days after the death of the president. Elections will be held in April and campaigning will be compacted into a short timeframe. The probable candidates are Chavez’s Vice President Nicolas Maduro, representing the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), and the opposition candidate from Primero Justicia (PJ), Governor Henrique Capriles.
Maduro remains a staunch supporter of his predecessor’s policies and beliefs. "We are absolutely firm on the goals, plans and spirit of this program ... Our people want to continue consolidating a socially inclusive model that gives protection to all, economic stability and progress, and true democracy." Capriles, the previous opposition candidate against Chavez in last year’s election, represents a more moderate Venezuelan government than PSUV socialism, citing that [A3] "don’t fool yourselves that you’re the good and we’re the bad." He is pushing for "incremental change rather than a complete overhaul of policies."
The current and future months of the Venezuelan federal government revolve around a host of constitutional controversies. There are two primary issues: one is the question of who should be the interim President and the other who can run for president in the upcoming election.
Concerning the interim presidency, the PSUV cites Article 233 and 234 of the Venezuelan Constitution as backing the ascension of Vice President Nicolas Maduro during Chavez’s hospitalization. The articles state that a temporary unavailability of the president to rule the country puts the vice president in power. However, Article 233 also states that when a president becomes permanently unavailable to rule prior to his inauguration that the president of the National Assembly will be the interim head of state. But if the permanent unavailability occurs in the president’s first four years in office, then the vice president will become the interim head of state. However, the Articles do not address the unique circumstances surround Chavez’s death and election, which leaves a constitutional question hanging in the balance.
Chavez was neither sworn in on the required January 10 inauguration date nor before the Supreme Tribunal of Justice. The ailing Chavez was being treated in Cuban hospitals during the inauguration dates. The Constitution does not stipulate what is to happen if the president-elect is unavailable for either ceremonies. Thus, the PSUV-led Supreme Tribunal ruled his reelection as a continuation of his previous term, and that the oath of office was a formality to be completed when Chavez was in better health. Chavez died before any formal inauguration could occur.
Thus, the opposition argues that the president of the National Assembly should currently be in power until an election, because the president died before his inauguration. However, the PSUV cite the Supreme Tribunal’s earlier decision that Chavez’s inauguration was just a formality, so he died in his first four years of office meaning the interim president should be Maduro.
Moving on to the second issue, there is even further confusion in the mix as PJ cites Article 229 of the constitution to prevent Maduro from running for the presidency in the upcoming elections. Article 229 states that if one is the vice president when they announce their candidacy for president, he is not eligible for the presidency. The opposition uses this as support for why the president of the National Assembly should be the interim leader. The PSUV argued that Maduro was interim president when he announced his candidacy, not vice president, so he can run for the election.
There are clearly some elastic interpretations of the Constitution by the PSUV, but they seem to be able to utilize the previously argued loopholes as their defense. This ongoing dispute can only resolved in the April elections.
Of course if Maduro wins the election, as he likely will, the PJ will challenge the election since they think he should not be able to run in the first place. There seems to be no reconciliation of the two Venezuelan parties in the near future, and Venezuela will most likely be under its Chavista-socialism for six more years.