"If there were consensus, Chavez would not have found it necessary to fly home from Havana last weekend, in the middle of delicate medical treatments, to publicly name a successor," Isacson said.
In the short-term, he said, Chavez's allies know it's in their best interest to fall in behind Maduro if a new election is called, and the president's endorsement could give Maduro enough clout to lead for months or years.
"Instability could come later, if President Chavez dies and the new leader of Chavismo lacks his charisma and ability to hold the coalition together," Isacson said. "At that point, Chavismo would be likely to splinter."
For now, though, many of Chavez's supporters seem united in their concern and sympathy.
On the streets of Caracas, the government put up new banners on lampposts this week reading: "Now more than ever, with Chavez." The president's supporters wrote and painted get-well messages for him on a giant banner in downtown Caracas on Friday.
Many said that even though he seems to face long odds in his fight against cancer, they still hold out hope he might recover.
State television has been showing a collage of moments in Chavez's life, including appearances alongside Fidel Castro, snippets of his 2006 speech on the floor of the U.N. when he called President George W. Bush "the devil," and images of him rallying supporters wearing the red beret from his days as an army paratroop commander.
Some of Chavez's supporters expressed fears about political battles emerging, while others said the country's people wouldn't stand for it.
Mariana Salas, who sells orange juice and fruit at a roadside stand in the working-class slum of Petare, said she trusts that Chavistas won't turn on each other if the president dies.
"If it turns out that some of them do, they should be expelled from the party because Chavez gave a very clear order: Maduro is the man we should follow," she said.
Maduro, Chavez's longtime foreign minister and a former bus driver, has stepped into the void during Chavez's absence. On Thursday night, his voice was hoarse as he spoke at a political rally, pledging not to give in to the country's "bourgeoisie."
"I swear to you ... we will never betray the Venezuelan people!" he said, adding: "Together we're going to defend the peace, stability and the future of our children, with our own lives if necessary!"
But Maduro will find it difficult to control the various factions in Chavez's socialist party, said Vicente Torrijos, a political analyst at Rosario University in Bogota, Colombia. "Maduro doesn't have that charisma, nor the ability, much less the political capital," he said.
Torrijos expects the fervor inspired by Chavez to continue, but he predicts differences among the president's followers will eventually "disrupt the revolution." The military is likely to "influence political decisions more and more," he said.
Associated Press writers Christopher Toothaker in Caracas and Cesar Garcia in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.
Ian James on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ianjamesap
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