Since events in Venezuela began escalating involving largely the looming death and eventual demise of Hugo Chavez, pertinent questions surrounding a successive president emerged. These questions may have been premature when Chavez was in Havana, Cuba receiving life-saving chemotherapy treatment, however they are now a matter of urgency.
Following Chavez’s passing on 6 March 2013, his appointed successor Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver and Union leader, has taken the role of Interim president. This role is a provisional one for Maduro as the country faces mass mourning, manifesting in a seven-day mourning period for the Venezuelan Republic. Schools have been closed until Monday and a state funeral is set to be held for Friday. Eleven countries have also declared multiple days of mourning, including Belarus and Iran. The country is arguably in a state of flux until elections follow in the coming weeks.
The Venezuelan constitution, written by Chavez in 1999 states that in the case of presidential demise, the head of the National Assembly will assume power until elections are held in thirty days. This is the case if the President has not been inaugurated. If the President has been inaugurated, then the Vice-President can take charge. Article 233 of the Constitution states:
Pending election and inauguration of the new President, the President* of the National Assembly shall take charge of the Presidency of the Republic.
However, this has not been followed through since Maduro, Chavez’s appointed Vice-President, has been declared Interim president by Elias Jaua on state television following Chavez’s death. Another worrying in-constitutionality is article 229, which states that a person holding the office of Vice-President, is not eligible for election to the office of Presidency. Maduro will most probably face Henrique Capriles, the centrist opposition governor of Miranda state, in elections. However, the government is yet to specify the date of these elections.
Maduro has been a prominent figure since his role as Foreign Minister and then Vice-president. However he has been particularly active in the media since Chavez travelled to Cuba for treatment on 11 December. Many have accused him of “campaigning” in an attempt to bolster his public image while Chavez has been away. Given the health of the late President at the time, this seems more than feasible. There were obvious inclinations that Chavez’s health was deteriorating and the likelihood of Maduro preparing for his death and possible elections appears high.
But what do the people make of Chavez’s right-hand man? The most recent opinion poll in Venezuela has shown Maduro to have a strong lead over opposition candidate Capriles. This could be in part because Maduro received Chavez’s blessing as his heir apparent, and so he is more likely to benefit from the surge of emotion following the President’s death. Maduro also has the edge of being a civilian leader which is very different with Chavez’s strong military background. However, there is still strong fervour in the country for Capriles who made his mark in the October elections by winning nearly half of all votes. He was also prized with campaigning door-to-door which bolstered his popularity and presented his relentless commitment.
Some have suggested that Maduro might try to ease tensions with Western investors and the U.S. government. However, hours before Chavez’s death, Maduro alleged that “imperialist” enemies had infected the president with cancer and he expelled two U.S. diplomats accused of conspiring with domestic opponents. Sentiment is certainly high at the moment, Maduro has even spoken of a possible U.S invasion.
Once the elections begin, the chances of Maduro winning presidency are high. He has built a decent image of himself nationally and internationally and he has had a lot of time to do this while Chavez was away. But only time will tell if Maduro can secure the votes of this thirty million strong electorate.