His adversaries say that would be running roughshod over the constitution as the former soldier remains in Havana and appears too weak to return to Venezuela after winning re-election in October for a third six-year term.
“If the president of the republic does not take office (on January 10), the country cannot be left in a power vacuum,” said Tomas Guanipa of the opposition Justice First party, insisting that the head of Congress, Diosdado Cabello, should be sworn in temporarily.
The dispute centers on an article of the constitution that says a president-elect should be sworn in on January 10, but does not say what happens if the inauguration does not take place that date.
A fierce debate over the issue has deflected attention from the president’s absence from the political scene and apparent inability to speak in a live broadcast.
The government, which has refused to discuss having Chavez temporarily step aside as he recovers, is providing only terse statements with bare-bones details of his condition.