CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's opposition leader said Tuesday that the Supreme Court should rule in a dispute between the opposition and President Hugo Chavez's government over whether the ailing leader's inauguration can legally be postponed.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said the constitution is clear that the current presidential term ends on Jan. 10. The president underwent his fourth cancer surgery in Cuba last month and hasn't spoken publicly in a month.
Other opposition leaders have argued that the inauguration cannot legally be put off and that the National Assembly president should take over as interim president if Chavez hasn't returned from Cuba on inauguration day.
Chavez's allies have suggested the inauguration can be delayed past Thursday and carried out at a later date before the Supreme Court.
"There has to be a response by the Supreme Court," Capriles said. "There is no monarchy here, and we aren't in Cuba."
However, he said he saw no reason to bring a formal challenge to the court because it was obliged to rule on the matter.
Capriles lost to Chavez in presidential elections three months ago. He said Tuesday the government's stance appeared to add to a potentially conflictive atmosphere, and he suggested the country's military also has a role in standing up for constitutional norms.
The opposition leader said he has spoken with various members of the military, and that they have told him "we are with the constitution."
"The Armed Force also has a role to play to play here," Capriles said, without elaborating, using the formal name of the military.
The Venezuelan Constitution says the presidential oath should be taken before lawmakers in the National Assembly on Jan. 10. It says the president may also take the oath before the Supreme Court if he's unable to be sworn in before the assembly. Officials argue that clause does not explicitly mention a date, though opponents say the meaning is clear.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro has called the swearing-in a "formality" and said the opposition is erroneously interpreting the constitution. Chavez has said that if he's unable to continue on as president, Maduro should take his place and run in an election to replace him.
Capriles said, however, that "Maduro wasn't elected."
"I don't understand what they're looking for," Capriles told reporters. "Our country doesn't need hate. Our country doesn't need fights."
Chavez hasn't spoken publicly since before his Dec. 11 surgery in Cuba. The government said on Monday Chavez was in a "stable situation" in a Cuban hospital receiving treatment due to a severe respiratory infection.
Government officials called for Chavez's supporters to gather at the presidential palace on Thursday, and said some Latin American heads of state plan to attend.
Uruguayan Deputy Foreign Relations Minister Roberto Conde told local station Radio Uruguay on Tuesday that President Jose Mujica will fly to Caracas Wednesday morning. Mujica's schedule of events in Caracas has not been defined yet, but he plans to return home on Saturday.
Capriles said Latin American leaders shouldn't visit, urging them instead to demand that the Venezuelan Constitution be upheld. He called for the presidents of countries including Argentina, Brazil and Colombia to take such a stance.
Capriles said that if the opposition were to urge supporters to take to the streets in protest, it would lead to "a fight."
"Anarchy isn't good for anybody, and a conflict in the country isn't good for anybody," Capriles said.
Opposition coalition leader Ramon Guillermo Aveledo wrote to Organization of American States Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza on Monday explaining the opposition's concerns. Aveledo said in the letter that if Chavez doesn't appear on inauguration day and there is no declaration of a temporary absence of the president, "a serious violation of the constitutional order will have been committed."
Associated Press writer Fabiola Sanchez contributed to this report.