CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuela's Supreme Court president said Wednesday that the upcoming inauguration of ailing President Hugo Chavez can legally be postponed.
Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales made the statement amid a heated debate between the government and opposition over whether the constitution requires the cancer-stricken leader to be sworn in for a new term on Thursday. The congress voted to delay the ceremony on Tuesday.
Morales announced her stance after the country's opposition coalition said it would ask the court for an opinion on the National Assembly's decision to postpone Chavez's inauguration for a new term.
The constitutional debate takes place against a backdrop of complaints 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," opposition leader Ramon Guillermo 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, and it was unclear how the opposition would respond to the Supreme Court chief's position.
Government officials say the constitution allows the court to swear in a new president and argue that clause does not specify a date.
The opposition has argued that the only option to postpone the ceremony is for the congress to approve a 90-day "temporary absence" for the president, leaving the head of the National Assembly as interim president for 90 days, a period that could be extended for an additional 90 days.
But Morales said that as of now, "there is not even a temporary absence."