Venezuela's Supreme Court endorsed on Wednesday the government's position that ailing President Hugo Chavez can delay his swearing-in for another term without creating a constitutional vacuum.
The 58-year-old head of state, who won another term in the Oct. 7 election, remains hospitalized in Cuba four weeks after undergoing his fourth cancer surgery in 18 months.
"Despite the beginning of a new constitutional period on Jan. 10, a new oath-taking is not necessary in relation to President Hugo Chavez in his condition as a re-elected president," Supreme Court Chief Justice Luisa Estella Morales told reporters.
The high court's opinion supports the Chavez administration's view that under Article 231 of the Venezuelan Constitution, the president may be sworn-in by the Supreme Court at a later date.
Chavez's aides officially confirmed on Tuesday that he would not be present for the scheduled inauguration.
"The executive branch constituted by the president, vice president, the ministers and the other organs and officials of the administration will continue fully exercising their functions based on the principle of administrative continuity," Morales said Wednesday, implicitly rejecting opposition claims that Chavez's failure to take the oath would make his government illegitimate.
The chief justice also dismissed the opposition's contention that the clock should start Thursday on the 180-day maximum period during which Vice President Nicolas Maduro can serve as acting president before having to call fresh elections.
Chavez traveled to Cuba with permission from the National Assembly and that authorization was renewed on Tuesday, Morales pointed out.
Chavez, who took office in 1999, is supposed to serve until 2019.
The government says the president is battling "complications stemming from a severe lung infection" that developed after his Dec. 11 operation in Havana. EFE