* Maduro long considered possible Chavez successor
* Opposition's Capriles says he is over election defeat
* Political forces prepare for December governors' vote
By Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS, Oct 10 Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
named Foreign Minister and former bus driver Nicolas Maduro as
his new vice president on Wednesday in a Cabinet shake-up
following his comfortable re-election.
Maduro, 49, replaces Elias Jaua, who will run for the
governorship of Miranda state against defeated presidential
candidate Henrique Capriles in the South American OPEC member's
December gubernatorial elections.
An ex-union leader on the public bus service and foreign
minister since 2006, Maduro has long been seen as a possible
successor to Chavez along with several other senior allies.
He was frequently at his side in the most critical moments
of Chavez's year of cancer treatment since mid-2011.
The possibility of a recurrence of the disease hangs over
Chavez despite a surprisingly vigorous campaign before his
convincing 11-point win on Sunday.
Should Chavez's cancer reappear and force him out of office
within the first four years of his six-year term, the vice
president would serve temporarily as president before a new
election. If Chavez left office in the final two years, the vice
president would serve out the rest of the term. Chavez, 58, has
ruled Venezuela since 1999.
"I don't recommend anyone for the vice president's job,"
Chavez joked, naming Maduro during the formal proclamation of
his presidential win by Venezuela's election board.
"Putting up with me is not easy!"
The affable Maduro's working-class background gives him more
appeal than other officials among Chavez's supporters. He was
elected in 2000 to parliament, where his combative defense of
Chavez's socialism turned him into a favored protege.
"He was a bus driver. How they mock him, the bourgeoisie,"
said Chavez, who depicts his socialist government as a protector
of the masses against an evil capitalist elite.
In other changes, Interior Minister Tareck el Aissami,
Presidential Office Minister Erika Farias and Indigenous
Peoples' Minister Nicia Maldonada all left the Cabinet to fight
for state governorships, the ruling Socialist Party said.
Replacements were not named.
'BACK ON MY FEET'
Capriles, the energetic Miranda state governor, said he had
put Sunday's loss behind him and urged opposition supporters to
rally once more for December's gubernatorial elections as a way
of putting a brake on Chavez's power across Venezuela.
"I'm back on my feet. ... The tears have dried up,"
Capriles, who won 44 percent of the vote compared with 55
percent for Chavez, told a three-hour news conference late on
A business-friendly lawyer and career politician widely seen
as the opposition's best leader of the Chavez era, Capriles, 40,
plans to run for re-election in Miranda.
Having beaten a heavyweight Chavez ally for that post in
2008, Capriles will now take on another senior loyalist, Jaua,
in the highest-profile race of the Dec. 16 elections.
Members of the opposition coalition control seven of 23
states, and they hope to increase that number in December.
But Chavez's candidates will gain momentum from his
re-election victory, especially as he won in all but two states.
In the campaign, Chavez never referred to Capriles by name.
He savaged his rival daily as a "pig," "loser," "sycophant,"
"fascist," "nothing" and "candidate of the ultra-right."
Yet the president appeared impressed by Capriles' quick
acknowledgement of defeat and telephoned him on Monday.
"I took the telephone and thought, 'Gosh, let's see which of
the nicknames he's going to use.' At last he called me by my
surname," Capriles said with a smile.
"I told him, 'Mr. President, with all due respect, I hope we
are not going to continue hearing insults and derogatory terms.'
... . He told me I had made a great effort, and that I should
get some rest, and that I had pushed him hard."
Having won the most votes against Chavez of the past four
presidential elections and galvanized the once-fractured
opposition, Capriles looks like its obvious head right now.
But there is no guarantee he will retain that status.
Other ambitious opposition leaders of his generation, like
Zulia Governor Pablo Perez and former Caracas District Mayor
Leopoldo Lopez, may be sizing up their own chances at a 2018
Capriles, who has avoided mentioning Chavez's recent battles
with two cancerous tumors beyond wishing him good health and a
long life, has dropped plenty of hints that he plans to remain
the opposition's driving force.
"I am going to continue going around Venezuela. There are
lots of places I was unable to visit," he said of his grueling
campaign of hundreds of visits to villages, towns and cities.
"I left my heart on the road, and I'll do it again. ... No
one is unbeatable."