"If for any supervening reason, the person elected President of the Republic cannot be sworn in before the National Assembly, he shall take the oath of office before the Supreme Tribunal of Justice."
No date is specified. National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello said "The decision of a whole people can't be subject to just one day, whatever the constitution may say."
"There's the precedent of a mayor who postponed his taking on the position for three months. I don't remember his name right now but it's a true fact. The law just can't be interpreted so rigidly."
Venezuela's National Assembly can extend Chavez's absence up to six months. Vice President Maduro can replace him for 90 days. The NA can authorize an additional 90 days.
Thereafter it would decide if absence is permanent by majority vote. Chavez's PSUV members dominate the body. They're not about to unelect their popular leader.
At issue is whether Chavez is healthy to serve. When swearing-in is possible appears secondary. Government officials say he'll be sworn in on January 10 or some other date.
On December 25, the Havana Times published Chavez's Christmas eve message. Vice President Maduro convened his wishes.
"President Chavez asked me to give his special greeting to all the children of Venezuela on this Christmas eve," he said.
"He told me that he has received with much love the prayers of our people and the sister peoples of the world."