IN HIS 14 years as Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez has always subscribed to the principle of après moi, le deluge. Wary of allowing any rival centre of power to emerge, he has systematically hollowed out the country’s institutions, and subtly encouraged factions within his movement to spar for his good graces. But on December 8th, Mr Chávez announced that his still-unspecified pelvic cancer has reappeared, and that he must undergo a fourth surgery. With no guarantee that he will be in suitable condition for his inauguration for a third term on January 10th, he at last anointed an heir apparent, choosing Nicolás Maduro (pictured), his foreign minister and vice-president.
Under Venezuela’s 1999 constitution, if the president dies or leaves office during the final two years of a six-year term, the appointed vice-president serves out the remainder. But before that point, if a president has to abdicate, new elections must be held within 30 days. So if Mr Chávez cannot be sworn in, the country will hold a re-run of the vote held on October 7th, when the incumbent beat Henrique Capriles of the Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance by asurprisingly comfortable margin. Assuming that Mr Capriles, currently the governor of Miranda state, is re-elected to his post in regional elections on December 16th, he would almost certainly be the opposition candidate once again, and would face Mr Maduro in Mr Chávez’s stead.
Mr Maduro, 50, has never held an elected executive post. A former student leader and member of the radical Socialist League, his only job outside politics was as a bus driver starting in the late 1980s. That gave him a toehold in organised labour, and he became president of the Caracas Metro union. His links with the president go back to the days when Mr Chávez was in jail after a failed coup attempt, and he joined the legislature in 1999, chairing the assembly in 2005-06.
Like most of Mr Chávez’s inner circle, he has no significant political base of his own. But he has been more successful than anyone in convincing the president of his loyalty and ability to carry out orders. Mr Maduro has never been far from Mr Chávez’s side during the president’s frequent visits to Cuba for cancer treatment. He is widely considered to have the support of the Cuban regime, whose security and intelligence services play an important (though largely hidden) role in Venezuela.
Mr Maduro would have to triumph over two rivals if he hopes to take over the chavistaapparatus. The first is Mr Capriles, who won a respectable 46% of the vote in October, and showed impressive skills as a campaigner. Polls have consistently shown Mr Capriles beating all opponents save Mr Chávez himself, including Mr Maduro. However, the president’s whole-hearted endorsement of Mr Maduro would surely cause many of his supporters to back his preferred successor, especially if an incapacitated Mr Chávez remained alive to remind voters of his dying wish. “My firm opinion,” he said on December 9th, “clear as the full moon, irreversible, absolute, and total, is that in a scenario requiring the holding of new presidential elections, you should choose Nicolás Maduro as president.”
Even if Mr Maduro did vanquish Mr Capriles, however, he would still have to exert control over Mr Chávez’s fractious movement. His main challenger would be Diosdado Cabello, a former army lieutenant who participated in Mr Chávez’s coup attempt, and is now the chairman of the legislature and the vice-president of the ruling United Socialist Party. Mr Cabello lacks Mr Maduro’s bona fides as an ideological leftist. However, he wields influence in the army and the highly opaque distribution of the country’s oil revenues, and despite the president’s wishes, he may not line up meekly behind Mr Maduro. Despite Mr Chávez’s belated effort to arrange for continuity, some degree of internecine warfare seems inevitable.
Click here for original article.