CARACAS - Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro will take over as interim president and an election will be called within 30 days, the country's foreign minister said today, after Hugo Chavez's death.
"It is the mandate that comandante President Hugo Chavez gave us," Foreign Minister Elias Jaua told state news channel Telesur, explaining that there was an "absolute absence" over the constitutional procedure to replace Chavez.
Jaua did not specify if the election would be held within 30 days or if the date would be chosen during that period. The constitution says an election must be held "within the next 30 consecutive days."
The government and the opposition have sparred in recent months over how the constitution should be interpreted in the event of Chavez's death.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost the October election to Chavez, called on the government to "act strictly within its constitutional duty."
The opposition has said that the constitution calls for the National Assembly president, Diosdado Cabello, to take the helm if the president died.
But before he left for Cuba to undergo cancer surgery in December, Chavez said Maduro should take over if he became incapacitated.
The constitution says the legislature's speaker must take over if the president dies before being sworn in to a new term.
Chavez, who was re-elected in October, missed his January 10 inauguration, but the Supreme Court approved a delay and ruled that there was no interruption between the two administrations.
The constitution says that the vice president takes the helm if the president dies within the first four years of his new term.
Fernando Soto Rojas, a lawmaker from Chavez's socialist PSUV party, had said earlier that National Assembly president must take the helm.
"There is no power vacuum. The National Assembly with its president Diosdado Cabello must take power and later we will go without a doubt to an electoral process," Soto Rojas told state-run television, adding that he backed Maduro as an election candidate.