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"Fortunately, this revolution doesn’t depend on one man," Chavez said. "Today we have a collective leadership."
Throughout his presidency, though, Chavez has been a one-man political phenomenon, and until the appointment of Maduro he hadn’t spoke of any clear successor.
"Chavez is in the short term irreplaceable in terms of leadership and of national impact," said Luis Vicente Leon, a pollster who heads the Venezuelan firm Datanalisis.
Still, he said, Chavez’s announcement could help his party’s candidates rally support in upcoming state gubernatorial elections on Dec. 16. Leon also said that if Chavez’s candidates have a strong showing, it could give his party an added boost to promote constitutional changes to allow Maduro to succeed Chavez without the need for a new election. Such a possibility has not been publicly raised by Chavez’s political allies.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who was defeated by Chavez in the presidential vote, wished the president a speedy recovery.
He also bristled at the idea of Maduro being a designated political heir, saying: "When a person leaves his position the public has the last word, because we’re in Venezuela and not Cuba."
"Here you can’t talk about successors," Capriles told reporters.
Capriles is now running for re-election as governor of Miranda state, and he sidestepped a reporter’s question about whether he would consider another presidential bid if new elections are held. "We aren’t going around settling accounts," he said. "This is a difficult moment for the government."
Associated Press writers Fabiola Sanchez and Christopher Toothaker in Caracas and Frank Bajak in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.
Ian James on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ianjamesap
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