The Next Future President of Venezuela

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.

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. manmade1988 says:

    As you may imagine, I disagree with some stuff. But first and foremost, we must clear up that there is nothing unconstitutional about electing the Vice-President to be president for the 30 days until the election, instead of choosing the Head of the National Assembly. What the constitution clearly states in Article 233, regarding what happens in the event of the president’s death is as follows (translated and paraphrased): if the death of the president of the republic occurs within the first four years of the constitutional term, there will be a universal election within the first 30 days; during that period (and here I QUOTE): “While the new president is either elected or taking up the position, the Executive Vice-President will take up the role of President of the Republic”. This paragraph is JUST BELOW the one that decrees that the Head of the National Assembly will take up the presidency. In other words, if the death of the president occurs after the first four years, then the NATIONAL ASSEMBLY HEAD will take up presidency; if it occurs WITHIN the first four years, it goes to Vice President. Granted, if it occurs within the last two years, it also goes to the Vice-President, which unless I’m interpreting it wrong, means that it would only go to the head of the national assembly if the president dies in the fifth year. This kind of strategic wording itself may be a point of contention or critique among some, though it is not my position. But the fact remains that there is nothing “unconstitutional” about following what the constitution clearly states.

    1. manmade1988 says:

      sorry I misinterpreted one thing. It is only if it is the president-elect that dies before constitutional term begins, that the head of national assembly becomes president for those 30 days. Once the constitutional term begins (JANUARY 10, 2013), then the presidency is passed to the Vice President. The clause about the last two years simply states that in that case, the Vice President would finish the rest of the constitutional term as PRESIDENT, instead of holding a new election within the 30 days (as in the other two cases).. Hope that’s clear. Sorry for the confusion!

      1. Sorry to but in, but doesn’t the constitution say that the constitutional term begins after inauguration?! The inauguration was postponed, therefore, Cabello should be the interim president. Am I wrong in this?

  2. manmade1988 says:

    well the inauguration was postponed and deemed legal by the supreme court…we could begin arguing whether that was legal or `political manoeuvring` as the opposition contends (not I). But to specifically answer your question, you would be wrong, since the inauguration was allowed to be postponed and Chavez could be sworn in later. I assume (though I may be wrong) that this following comment may not carry much weight to you, but thousands of supporters flooded the street and felt the personal connection with their leader who even in absence reached them. A quote from an article reads: “It was the first time in Venezuela’s history that a president has missed his inauguration, said Elias Pino Iturrieta, a prominent historian. As for the symbolic street rally, Pino said, “perhaps it’s the first chapter of what they call Chavismo without Chavez.”” —- a sign of a people involved in a movement that does not centre around a man, but rather the IDEAS that he was able to get through to people (and of course the obvious social/economic progress) ………….a different connection with any leader I’ve met here in North America.

  3. Let’s not debate whether or not the postponement was legal or not, because that will derail this conversation. Those details can be settled between us at another time. So for the sake of the argument, let’s just agree that it was legal.

    Article 233 states, “When an elected President becomes permanently unavailable to serve PRIOR to his inauguration… the President of the National Assembly shall take charge of the Presidency of the Republic” (my emphasis on all caps). It would be only AFTER the inauguration where the Vice-President becomes the interim leader. So if there was no inauguration and we both agree that it was postponed, therefore, a new constitutional term did not begin, then how is it that Maduro is interim President and not Cabello!??!

    For the latter of your comment, the show of support from the people is powerful. However, it doesn’t change whether this move to have Maduro the interim president was constitutional or not.

  4. “Article 233 of Venezuela’s constitution allows for both scenarios, depending on whether the absence occurs for a president-elect, or for a president that has already begun their term.

    Since Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled in January that the Chavez government was not a newly elected government, and has “administrative continuity”, government officials assure that the president had begun his term, and that the vice-president should now take over until new elections are called in the next 30 days.

    Other opposition analysts have focused on Article 229 of the constitution, which says that the vice-president cannot be elected to the presidency, and have thus argued that Maduro cannot stand as a candidate in the coming elections.

    Venezuela’s national assembly is expected to officially declare an “absolute absence” in the coming days, and to swear in Vice-president Nicolas Maduro to take over the presidency while new elections are organized.”

  5. I agree that with Omar that it says that “PRIOR to his inauguration… the President of the National Assembly shall take charge ” However, we all know that Chavez was not inaugurated. This is factual, not speculation or down to interpretation. We can argue that the Supreme Court did allow him leeway on inauguration by stating that he could take it in private or even while he was in Cuba and thus they granted him “temporary absence” until he could get better. This does not negate the necessity or the constitutional requirement of an inauguration, it simply means that the rules were relaxed for him given the circumstances.

    Now that he has died, without inauguration or swearing in, the words of the constitution MUST be respected, and Cabello should have been sworn in for the next thirty days. This is not down to opinion, this is simply what should have happened.

  6. To be honest, I am equally as concerned with article 229 which states

    Article 229: A person holding the office of Executive Vice-President*, Minister* or Governor*, or Mayor* as of the date he announces his candidacy or at any time between such date and that of the Presidential election shall not be eligible for election to the office of President of the Republic.

    What do we make of this!?!?!?!

    1. manmade1988 says:

      well, according to your translation of article 229, which is the same as mine, it is from the time when they announce they candidacy – when they postulate themselves – when they say they are running for president. This isn’t the case with Maduro….as Vice President and Chavez’s chosen successor, he is automatically thrown into the race. Capriles, on the other hand, who is Governor of Miranda State, will have to renounce his post if he wants to run for presidency.

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