Venezuela's vice president says if President Hugo Chavez is not able to take the oath of office next week, he could be sworn in later by the Supreme Court.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro's remarks Friday on state television could be a signal that the cancer-stricken president will not be able to attend his inauguration as scheduled next Thursday before the National Assembly.
The vice president's statement is likely to generate friction between the government and the opposition over the legality of putting off the swearing-in which the Venezuelan Constitution says should occur Thursday.
Opposition leaders argue the president's inability to attend the January 10 ceremony is the equivalent to him stepping down from office. They have demanded more information about the president's condition.
The Venezuelan Constitution says the presidential oath should be taken January 10 before the National Assembly. It also says that if the president is unable to be sworn in before the National Assembly, he may take the oath of office before the Supreme Court. Some legal experts have noted the sentence mentioning the Supreme Court does not mention a date.
President Chavez is in Cuba where he is recovering from his latest round of cancer surgery. He has not been seen in public since December 11.
He was first diagnosed with cancer in 2011, but has never disclosed the type or severity.
Should Chavez leave office, a new election is likely to pitch former Vice President Maduro against opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez in the October presidential election.
Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said Thursday that the president has developed a lung infection that has caused a "breathing insufficiency" that requires him to strictly comply with medical treatment. Villegas gave no further details.
Earlier this week, Vice President Maduro described the president's condition as "delicate."
Before leaving for Cuba, President Chavez said Maduro would be the presidential candidate, if he is unable to serve and a new election is held within 30 days, as mandated by the Constitution.