If Chávez were to die or become incapacitated, "a fragmentation of the movement" would likely occur. In the immediate aftermath of such an incident, Vice President Elías Jaua would take power, according to the constitution. Perhaps as an indication that Chávez is preparing for the worst, he formed a nine-member State Council earlier this month, headed by Jaua, to assist him with executive duties. The nine "would be able to draw upon a broader leadership base and carry more authority" in Chávez's absence, Wilpert said.
But with elections on the horizon, the Socialists' hold on power would be threatened without Chávez heading the party.
The following is a list of possible successors through the electoral process.
- Henrique Capriles of the center-right Justice First party, but Capriles has been building momentum and could perform well against a candidate less established than Chávez.
- Jaua, as Chávez's immediate successor, is one of the top candidates, though he is viewed as more of an administrator than a leader. Chávez appointed Jaua, 43, vice president in 2010; he served as Minister of Agriculture before then. Having been a university professor, Jaua's background is academic, and while he is viewed as an intellectual, he lacks the charisma and oratory skills to be a statesman on par with Chávez.
- Diosdado Cabello, the current Speaker of the National Assembly...who has focused on democratization in Venezuela.
- Foreign Affairs Minister Nicolás Maduro, 50, who started off as a bus driver and became a labor union leader...Maduro's politics align very closely with Chávez's.
- José Vicente Rangel, 82, a former vice president (2002 to 2005)...Ideologically, he is similar to Chávez.
- Lastly, there is Chávez's elder brother, Adán Chávez, 59. Currently the governor of the Venezuelan state of Barinas, Adán, a former physics professor, has a long history of political activity, with views often considered even more radical than his brother's.