Photo: Twitter / @taos
Today’s press conference by Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro gave the impression that Hugo Chavez is on the brink of death.The Venezuelan President has been fighting an undisclosed type of pelvic cancer since at least June 30, 2011, and had come back from the illness to win re-election last year.
Today, however, Maduro revealed that Chavez sicker than ever, with doctors were working around the clock to keep him alive.
The big question is what actually happens to Venezuela if Chavez dies?
Late last year Sean Burges, a senior associate in the Australian National Centre for Latin American Studies at the Australian National University, pointed to an article in the Venezuelan constitution that explains what should happen when a President dies.
Article 232 of the Venezuelan constitution addresses two scenarios directly relevant to Chávez’s illness. First, should an elected president become unable to take the oath of office to start their term, the constitution calls for a new presidential election. Second, new presidential elections must be held if a president dies, resigns or is fired from the presidency within the first four years of their term.
While Chavez was apparently too ill to take his oath, Venezuela’s court ruled he could skip it, ruling out an election earlier this year.
However, if Chavez dies anytime soon, Article 323 says an election must take place within 30 days.
That means Chavez’s anointed heir, Maduro, will be President for less than a month before an election.
If Maduro chooses to contest the election, it seems likely he would face opposition leader Henrique Capriles, a young, charismatic politician received 46 per cent of the vote when he competed against Chavez in October.
Many suspect, however, that Diosdado Cabello, speaker in Venezuela’s congress and a hardline Chavez ally, may make a run for the presidency, forcing Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela into conflict with itself.
The worry is that without Chavez’s cult of personality, Venezuelan politics will fall into chaos. In a country with widespread corruption, a powerful military, and links to the drugs trade, this is especially scary. Even before October’s election, there was widespread talk of an armed conflict if Chavez was not elected, and the country has growing currency and deficit issues that any new leader may find impossible to handle.
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