Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez will continue to serve until the next presidential election in 2019, officials said.
Chavez, a former military officer who led the country for 14 years, died Tuesday, March 5, at age 58 following a long battle with cancer.
Citing the widespread support and outpouring of grief since Chavez’s death, Vice President Nicolas Maduro and officials with Chavez’s United Socialist Party (PSUV) said the controversial firebrand will complete his fourth presidential term of six years.
“There is no need to change presidents, especially when our president has a popularity level that most living presidents can only dream of,” Maduro said. “I believe Hugo would have wanted to continue serving the people, even in death.”
Maduro says Chavez’s embalmed body will be wheeled into cabinet meetings where the display will “inspire” policy making until his term has expired.
The flamboyant and controversial Chavez used the country’s vast oil wealth to institute a number of socialist policies during his 14 years in power. Broad popular support, buoyed by Venezuela’s poor, enabled him to change the constitution and to win four presidential elections, most recently in October 2012 when he received 55 percent of the vote with a high turnout.
More than 30 world leaders attended his state funeral Friday in the Venezuelan capital Caracas. Millions of supporters lined the streets, and more than 2 million people have visited his body lying in state at a military academy.
Maduro told news reporters that Chavez was needed as figurehead president in order for the party to successfully continue his numerous socialist reforms, known as the Bolivarian Revolution.
Venezuela’s constitution states that an election must be held within 30 days if the president dies or is unable to take office.
However, PSUV officials said they plan to follow the Chavez playbook and change the constitution to enable him to remain president.
“We have the technology to keep (Chavez) preserved for decades, much like the Russians keep Vladimir Lenin.” Maduro added. “He could run for president again in 2019 if he’s still popular.”
Maduro said Chavez’s national talk show, “Alo Presidente,” which broadcasted for about six hours on Sundays, would continue to air each week with guest hosts.
Opposition politicians quickly denounced plans to keep Chavez as president.
“Hugo Chavez ran this country into the ground through corruption and cronyism,” said Juan Grande Culo, an opposition member of the National Assembly. “Now it’s our turn to do the same.”
“The good thing about Chavez’s death is that things might get back to normal in Venezuela,” said Manuel Enfermar, governor of Sucre state. “Politicians are supposed to serve the rich, not the poor.”
Miguel Pensador, a political scientist at the Central University of Venezuela, said Chavez left an indelible mark on Venezuela’s history.
“In our history, Venezuela was governed by behind-the-scenes interests and foreign companies,” Pensador said. “The president was largely a figurehead meant to serve the elites at the expense of the majority. As a result, Venezuelans are used to cabrones as presidents. It’s rare for a majority of poor Venezuelans to like their president, even if he was a bit of an autocrat like the other presidents.
“Chavez also told George W. Bush to f**k off before other world leaders started doing it,” Pensador added. “People will love him just for that.”