CARACAS – Nicolas Maduro took the oath of office as Venezuela’s acting president and asked electoral authorities to call an immediate vote, even as the opposition slammed the swearing-in as unconstitutional.
Maduro, who served as foreign minister and most recently as vice president under socialist head of state Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer on Tuesday at the age of 58, promised to uphold the country’s laws before National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.
Friday evening’s ceremony was attended by Cabinet ministers and representatives of allied countries but boycotted by most opposition lawmakers.
“I swear in the name of absolute loyalty to comandante Hugo Chavez that we will fulfill this Bolivarian constitution with the firm hand of a people committed to being free, I swear,” Maduro said.
He received the presidential sash in the presence of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, former Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, ex-Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo and Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman.
But Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles, who was defeated by Chavez in the most recent presidential vote in October and is expected to represent the opposition again soon in snap elections, said the swearing-in of Maduro as acting president was “fraudulent” and “spurious.”
He blasted the Supreme Court for ruling Friday that Maduro ceased to be vice president and became acting president upon Chavez’s death and therefore does not have to step down before competing in the upcoming presidential balloting, which by law is to take place within 30 days of the death of the incumbent head of state.
Venezuela’s constitution bars sitting vice presidents from running for the nation’s highest office.
In his first act as interim president, Maduro named Science and Technology Minister Jorge Arreaza, Chavez’s son-in-law, as his vice president.
The husband of Chavez’s oldest daughter, Rosa Virginia, Arreaza played a key role during Chavez’s convalescence of more than two months in Havana after undergoing his fourth and final cancer surgery in the Cuban capital late last year.
Before swearing in Arreaza, Maduro said he had spoken by phone with National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena and expressed his wish that a new presidential election be called “immediately.”
Earlier Friday, Maduro spoke for around 30 minutes at Chavez’s funeral, devoting most of his remarks to highlighting the legacy of the fiery former paratrooper who took office in 1999.
“The battle continues, Chavez lives, the struggle goes on! Long live Hugo Chavez, long live our people,” Maduro exclaimed during the ceremony at the Military Academy.
The late president’s testament consists of the “historical tasks” that Chavez outlined last year in his successful campaign for another six-year term, Maduro said.
The tasks mentioned in Chavez’s platform include building socialism, making Venezuela a powerful country within the framework of the great power of Latin America, and contributing to the preservation of humanity and the planet.
More than 2 million people have already filed past Chavez’s coffin and Maduro said Thursday that the president would lie in state for at least another seven days to give all Venezuelans a chance to pay their respects.
The vice president also announced that Chavez’s body will be preserved and kept on display in a glass tomb in the manner of Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin.