CARACAS, Venezuela Hugo Chavez’s successor as president was sworn in late Friday. Nicolas Maduro delivered a strident speech that took shots at the United States, the media, international capitalism and domestic opponents he often depicted as treacherous.
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Chavez’s boisterous, passionate state funeral Friday often felt like a political rally for his anointed successor, who eulogized him by pledging eternal loyalty and vowing to never be defeated.
As of Saturday, Venezuela was awaiting a key ruling from the nation’s elections commission about details of a vote to replace Chavez, including a possible date for the poll.
The constitution mandates that elections be called within 30 days of Chavez’s March 5 death, though some have speculated the country will not be ready to organize a vote in that time frame.
The National Election Commission scheduled an announcement for later yesterday amid increasingly strident rhetoric on both sides of this politically polarized country.
In Maduro’s speech, he claimed the allegiance of Venezuela’s army, referring to them as the “armed forces of Chavez,” despite the fact the military is barred from taking sides in politics.
The opposition has denounced the transition as an unconstitutional power grab, and likely standard-bearer Henrique Capriles said his side was studying its strategy for the vote, which will be held in the shadow of the government’s efforts to immortalize Chavez. Since his death, the former paratrooper has been compared to Jesus Christ and early 19th century Venezuelan liberator Simon Bolivar, and the government announced that his body would be embalmed and put on eternal display.
Venezuelan television yesterday showed a long line of people still filing by Chavez’s glass-topped coffin, which has been on display since Wednesday. Many had waited through the night for a brief glimpse of their former leader.
In his acceptance speech on Friday, Maduro warned the opposition not to boycott the vote.
“That would be a grave error,” he said.
Opposition figures have said they are concerned about the vote’s fairness, particularly given the public vows of allegiance to Chavez from senior military officials. Capriles lost to Chavez in October 7 elections, but he garnered 45 percent of the vote.
A boycott of 2005 legislative elections was widely seen as disastrous for the opposition. It let Chavez’s supporters to win all 167 seats, allowing him to govern unimpeded by any legislative rivals.
In the streets yesterday, many Venezuelans said they expected the opposition to take part in the poll, which will decide the president for the next six years.
“They will be present, yes, they will take part in the election,” said Benito Villalba, a 62-year-old retiree who said he would vote for Maduro.