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“When? It doesn’t say. Where? It doesn’t say where,” Mr. Cabello recently told a crowd of government supporters. His indication that the constitution does not specify where a president-elect should be sworn in by the Supreme Court has led to speculation that justices could travel to Cuba for the ceremony.

Opposition leaders chafe at the suggestion that Mr. Chavez could take office from a foreign country, saying the president made it clear before he left for the operation that his health was deteriorating by designating Mr. Maduro as his successor.

Opposition lawmaker Julio Borges said the president’s announcement revealed that he knew he would be not able to continue governing, but his allies have failed to accept it and have kept the state of Mr. Chavez’s health a secret to avoid losing their grip on power.

“The only one who has not recently lied regarding this issue is Chavez, who said that he’s very sick,” Mr. Borges said. “He made it clear that we are nearing an election, for which he already chose his candidate.”

Law professor Vicente Gonzalez de la Vega, however, agrees with Mr. Cabello’s view that the constitution is ambiguous regarding the time and place of a swearing-in ceremony before the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales said, following Mr. Cabello’s proposal last month, that justices could rule on whether it’s constitutional to postpone the date of the swearing-in ceremony. The issue has not yet been brought before the court, but President Morales said Dec. 20 that the court could take up such issues if asked and would have the final word.

The constitutional conundrum facing the country has additional complexities, said Mr. Gonzalez, a constitutional scholar and professor at the Central University of Venezuela.

Before Mr. Chavez’s inauguration date could be postponed, Mr. Gonzalez said, lawmakers would have to approve a 90-day extension of Mr. Chavez’s “temporary absence” granted for his trip to Cuba for surgery. The president of the National Assembly would then be sworn in as an interim president for 90 days, Mr. Gonzalez said.

In order for that to occur, Mr. Gonzalez said, the Supreme Court would need to appoint a panel of doctors to examine Mr. Chavez to determine whether his health could improve and whether he might be capable of continuing his duties as president.

“If a temporary absence is going to be declared, the medical team will have to determine that it’s not about an absolute absence; that is to say, that the president has the possibility of recuperating,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

More than three weeks after Mr. Chavez’s cancer surgery, government officials have been providing vague and shifting updates on his condition. Mr. Maduro announced over the weekend that Mr. Chavez had suffered complications because of a respiratory infection and was in “delicate” condition.

Information Minister Ernesto Villegas released a letter Thursday saying the opposition-aligned television channel Globovision had erroneously referred to Mr. Maduro as the “acting president” and calling for a correction. Mr. Villegas said in Wednesday’s letter to station Vice President Maria Fernanda Flores that he wanted to remind her “Hugo Chavez is the only president” in office.

Mr. Aveledo reiterated the opposition’s demand for the government to provide a full medical report.

He said that sending a medical team to Cuba to assess Mr. Chavez’s condition would be an option, if necessary. In the meantime, he said, “There are two keys here to facing this and any situation, which are the truth and the constitution.”

Some of the brewing disagreements could begin to be aired Saturday, when the National Assembly, which is controlled by a pro-Chavez majority, convenes to select legislative leaders. That session will be held just five days before an inauguration day that continues to be very much up in the air.