CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's opposition announced on Wednesday that it plans to ask the Supreme Court to rule on whether delaying the swearing-in of cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez violates the constitution.
Opposition leader Ramon Guillermo Aveledo said the opposition coalition will ask the court for an opinion on Congress's decision to postpone Chavez's inauguration for a new term, which had been scheduled for Thursday.
The constitutional debate takes place against a backdrop of charges that the government isn't giving complete information about the health of Chavez, who underwent his fourth cancer-related surgery in Cuba last month and hasn't spoken publicly in a month.
"It's very evident that he isn't governing, and what they want us to believe is that he's governing, and they're lying," Aveledo told the Venezuelan television channel Globovision. He insisted on the opposition's stance that the National Assembly president should take over temporarily as interim leader and that the Supreme Court should appoint a panel of doctors to determine Chavez's condition and whether he is fit to remain in office.
Aveledo didn't say when or how the opposition would bring its challenge.
The National Assembly, which is dominated by Chavez's allies, voted on Tuesday to let Chavez be sworn in at a later date before the Supreme Court. Government officials say the constitution allows the court to swear in a new president and argue that clause does not specify a date. It is unclear what the opposition could do, beyond seeking a court decision, to challenge the plan.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro broke the news that Chavez would not be able to attend the scheduled inauguration in a letter to National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.
The news sparked passionate debate in the assembly, with the opposition coalition arguing that if he is not sworn in on Thursday, Chavez must temporarily step aside and let the head of the National Assembly, Cabello, assume the presidency. Aveledo also wrote to the Organization of American States explaining their concerns, but other opposition leaders say there no plans for protests on inauguration day.
"What I won't do is put people to fight against people," opposition leader Henrique Capriles told reporters. "Our country doesn't need hate. Our country doesn't need fights."
At the heart of the dispute are differing interpretations of Venezuela's constitution. It says the oath of office should be taken before lawmakers in the National Assembly on Jan. 10, this Thursday. But the charter adds that if he is unable to be sworn in by the National Assembly, the president may take the oath before the Supreme Court.
Opponents argue that even if the oath is taken before the Supreme Court it should be on Jan. 10. Chavez's allies argue that the charter doesn't explicitly specify on what day it must take place.
While leaders of both the pro- and anti-Chavez camps say they don't expect violence to break out Thursday, the dispute could give the opposition grounds to question the legitimacy of government officials serving past the scheduled inauguration date.