Venezuelan opposition challenges Nicolás Maduro's legitimacy

Allegations of abuse of power and constitutional fraud bring end to brief truce between government and opposition

Venezuela's opposition has challenged the legitimacy of Nicolás Maduro as Venezuela's interim president, triggering a political row just hours after Hugo Chávez's funeral.

Opposition leaders accused the government of abuse of power and constitutional fraud in inaugurating Maduro as president on Friday night, raising the temperature in an election due to be held within 30 days.

A brief truce between the two sides in the wake of Chávez's death broke when Henrique Capriles, a state governor who leads the opposition coalition, disputed Maduro's right to be interim president while campaigning for the office in the snap election.

"Do you really need to abuse power to run for election?" he said at a press conference. Taunting the new president in an eerie echo of Chávez's own rhetorical style, Capriles added: "The people didn't vote for you, kid."

Some opposition deputies said they would boycott Maduro's inauguration at the national assembly; others planned to attend "under protest". Originally he was due to be sworn in at the military academy that hosted Chávez's funeral, but the venue was changed.

The opposition is concerned that the authority of incumbency will make Maduro, Chávez's vice-president and designated heir, unbeatable. Polls give him a wide lead over Capriles, who is expected to be the opposition candidate.

The constitution signals that the national assembly speaker – Diosdado Cabello, a Chavista loyalist – should have become interim president because Chávez was unable to assume office before he died on Tuesday after suffering from cancer for two years. Chávez was re-elected last October but never sworn in.

Cabello has been a rival to Maduro within Chavista ranks, but has accepted Maduro becoming interim president.

Earlier on Friday, the supreme court, which is packed with government loyalists, said Maduro became acting president the moment Chávez died and could run for president.

Capriles denounced that ruling and called the inauguration spurious: "What the supreme court did I've qualified as an electoral fraud."

The opposition leader, who lost to Chávez in last October's election, declined to confirm that he would run against Maduro, leaving open the possibility that he would boycott the election and trigger a political crisis. He accused the court of slipping the decision past the country while it mourned.

Capriles also criticised the government's plan to embalm Chávez and put him on display "for eternity" in a crystal urn in Caracas as not a "Christian burial".

Disquiet has grown over the decision. Chávez expressed a desire to be buried in the plains of his youth, far from the capital. On Friday, local media unearthed a clip of the president denouncing the practice of preserving and displaying cadavers in 2009. He made the comments in protest when Bodies Revealed, a travelling art and science show of dissected cadavers, visited Caracas. He closed it, citing moral concerns. "We are in the midst of something macabre," he said.


Rory Carroll and Virginia Lopez in Caracas

The GuardianTramp

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