By Simon Gardner and Ana Isabel Martinez
CARACAS, March 9 Venezuela's new acting
President Nicolas Maduro is pushing for a quick election, hoping
to benefit from an emotional outpouring at the death of his
charismatic mentor, Hugo Chavez, and step into his shoes.
Venezuela's election commission could announce as early as
Saturday a date for the election, which two recent polls have
forecast Maduro would win comfortably.
Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader who served as
foreign minister and vice president under Chavez, has vowed to
keep Chavez's self-styled socialist revolution alive.
He was sworn in as acting president in Congress on Friday
and handed the red, yellow and blue presidential sash.
"I asked (the election authority) to comply with legal and
constitutional obligations and immediately call elections,"
Maduro, 50, told Congress late on Friday as he cemented his
position as heir-in-waiting.
The Supreme Court had earlier ruled that Maduro did not need
to step down in order to campaign, but the move was denounced by
opponents as a violation of the constitution and a "fraud."
As Maduro spoke in Congress, residents of some wealthy
neighborhoods of Caracas banged pots and pans in a traditional
form of protest.
Maduro named Chavez's son-in-law Jorge Arreaza as his vice
president, and then returned to a military base where more than
2 million people have filed past Chavez's remains to pay their
last respects, and took his oath again in front of the casket.
Chavez was a hero to millions of mostly poor supporters for
using Venezuela's oil wealth to finance heavy social spending
during his 14-year rule but he was seen as a dictator by his
opponents. He died on Tuesday at age 58 after a two-year battle
Like Communist leaders Lenin, Stalin and Mao, Chavez's
remains are to be embalmed and put on display "for eternity".
An eclectic cast of celebrities, leftist and center-right
presidents and rogue leaders attended Chavez's state funeral on
Friday. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a close ally,
broke with protocol to kiss the coffin, while Oscar-winning
actor Sean Penn was also in attendance.
It is likely to be a particularly bitter election campaign
in the OPEC nation, which boasts the world's largest oil
The opposition had accused the government of trampling on
the constitution during its handling of Chavez's battle with
cancer, and is furious that Maduro was allowed to take on the
job of caretaker president while he campaigns for the job.
"This transgression is unprecedented in the history of the
republic," opposition lawmaker Maria Corina Machado said on
"Today, on a day of mourning ... the Supreme Court issued a
political sentence, a fraud," said opposition leader Henrique
Capriles, 40, the centrist governor of Miranda state who lost to
Chavez in October's election and is expected to face off against
"We are not prepared to tolerate abuses of power," he added.
"To become president, the people have to elect you. ... No one
elected Nicolas president."
The constitution stipulates that an election must be called
within 30 days, but some politicians said the electoral
authorities may not be ready. Before Maduro's call for an
immediate vote, there had been talk of a possible delay.
(With reporting by Daniel Wallis, Andrew Cawthorne, Terry Wade,
Deisy Buitrago, Marianna Parraga, Pablo Garibian and Enrique
Andres Pretel; Editing by Todd Eastham)