Hugo Chavez’s allies re-elect legislative chief

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If Chavez dies or is declared incapacitated, the constitution says that a new election should be called and held within 30 days, and Chavez has said Maduro should be the candidate. There have been no public signs of friction between the vice president and Cabello, who appeared side-by-side waving to supporters after the session and vowed to remain united.

“Come here, Nicolas. You’re by brother, friend. They don’t understand that,” Cabello said, hugging Maduro before the crowd. Referring to government opponents, he said: “They’re terrified of that, unity.”

But opposition lawmaker Julio Borges said the government’s choices of legislative leaders pointed to an arrangement aimed at containing an internal “rupture.”

Borges told reporters that he believes there is a behind-the-scenes “fight” in the president’s party to avoid Cabello assuming powers temporarily if Chavez is unable to be sworn in on schedule. The lawmaker asserted that there are serious tensions between those who support a “model that’s kidnapped from Havana” and a military-aligned wing in Chavez’s movement.

Cabello sought to cut off such speculation, saying: “We will never betray the will of the Venezuelan people. We will never betray the orders and instructions of Commander Chavez.”

The National Assembly president also dismissed the possibility of dialogue with Chavez’s opponents, saying: “There is no conciliation possible with that perverse right.”

Both Maduro and Cabello have reasons for presenting a united front, political analyst Vladimir Villegas said.

“They have the responsibility to keep Chavismo united because the division of Chavismo would be the ruin of both of them. For that reason, they’re going to do everything possible to stay united,” Villegas said.

If the government delays the swearing-in and Chavez’s condition improves, the president and his allies could have more time to plan an orderly transition and prepare for a new presidential election.

Opposition leaders have argued the constitution is clear that the inauguration should occur Thursday, and one presidential term ends and another begins. They have demanded more information about Chavez’s condition and have said that if Chavez can’t make it back to Caracas by Thursday, the president of the National Assembly should take over provisionally.

If such a change were to occur, it might not lead to any perceptible policy shifts because Cabello is a longtime Chavez ally who vows to uphold his socialist-oriented Bolivarian Revolution movement. But the latest comments by pro-Chavez leaders indicate they intend to avoid any such changes in the presidency, at least for now.

“We’re experiencing political stability,” Soto Rojas said as he announced the choices of legislative leaders put forward by Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Referring to Chavez, the former legislative leader said: “Onward, Comandante.”

Shifter said the government’s stance has left opposition on the defensive, with its only tactic being to insist that Jan. 10 is the established date.

“The opposition’s strong objections to the government’s plan are unlikely to get much political traction,” Shifter said. “What the government is doing may be of dubious constitutionality but it fits a familiar pattern under Chavez’s rule and will probably have minimal political costs.”

Chavez was re-elected in October to another six-year term, and two months later announced that his pelvic cancer had returned. Chavez said before the operation that if his illness prevented him from remaining president, Maduro should be his party’s candidate to replace him in a new election.

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