CARACAS, Venezuela — Hugo Chavez’s sudden return to Venezuela after more than two months of cancer treatments in Cuba has fanned speculation that the president could be preparing to relinquish power and make way for a successor and a new election.
The government is insisting that Chavez remains in charge, playing an upbeat jingle on state television Tuesday with the message: “He’s back, he’s back!” But political analysts said he could soon take the oath of office in a delayed swearing-in ceremony as a first step toward a formal resignation, and a transition of power. Taking the oath, however, wouldn’t be required for the country’s congress and Supreme Court to call a new election.
Chavez remained silent and out of sight a day after his return was announced on his Twitter account Monday. The government said he was continuing unspecified medical treatments at Caracas’ military hospital.
“The big question, beyond where the president is, is whether the president is capable of governing,” said Mariana Bacalao, a professor of public opinion at the Central University of Venezuela. She said it seems unlikely that Chavez would be able to overcome his illness.
Even the state newspaper Correo del Orinoco referred to the possibility of a new election in its Monday edition. The top headline, published before Chavez’s announced return, reported on a survey by the pollster Hinterlaces that showed Vice President Nicolas Maduro with a double-digit lead over opposition leader Henrique Capriles if a vote were held.
Chavez hasn’t spoken publicly since before his latest cancer surgery in Cuba on Dec. 11, and critics are questioning whether a leader who has been breathing through a tube and is unable to appear in public is now capable of remaining in office.
“This tension isn’t sustainable for much longer. Now that he’s here, they can’t let another 70 days pass for an image to appear or for him to speak,” Bacalao said. “There has to be a convincing response because people are waiting for an outcome.”
Chavez’s political allies have left open the possibility that the president may finally take the oath of office, a ceremony originally scheduled for last month. But they have given few precise details about his cancer or what sort of “complex and tough” treatment he is undergoing.
Aides and politicians in Chavez’s camp have said he should be given as much time as he needs to recover.