Hugo Chavez
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez speaks during a national broadcast at Miraflores Palace in Caracas Dec. 9, 2012. REUTERS

As Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is recuperating from a cancer surgery in Cuba, his government officials said they will postpone his inauguration, slated to be held Jan. 10, if his condition doesn’t allow him to start his new term.

The 58-year-old socialist leader, who won re-election Oct. 7, underwent his fourth cancer operation Dec. 11 in Cuba but suffered a respiratory infection.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who Chavez named as his successor if the situation took a turn for the worse, told state television Monday that Chavez’s condition was improving and had started walking and exercising.

Venezuelan Information Minister Ernesto Villegas also said that Chavez had shown a slight improvement, during a terse televised statement, adding that the president has maintained contact with family members, Reuters has reported.

In the two weeks following the surgery, the government had said the president suffered post-operatory complications including unexpected bleeding and a lung infection, but offered few details about his actual condition.

Chavez had undergone three surgeries in less than a year and two sessions of radiation treatments before the presidential election and declared in May that he had beaten the disease. But details of Chavez's ailment as well as the type of cancer he is suffering from are still not known.

The Venezuelan constitution says that if a president-elect dies before taking office, a new election should be held within 30 days. In the meantime, the president of the National Assembly is to be in-charge of the government.

Opposition politicians and commentators have said that if Chavez is not in Venezuela to be sworn in on the scheduled date, a new election will be required to be held within 30 days.

However, government officials loyal to the president have rejected the opposition argument and said the swearing-in could take place at a later date.

“What we have is a president who has been re-elected, and he will be sworn in on that day or on another later date,” Attorney General Cilia Flores said Monday in televised remarks to reporters adding that the Constitution allowed the date to be postponed, according to a New York Times report.

The vice president reiterated the attorney general’s statement saying there was room in the Constitution to delay the swearing-in. The president had received permission from the National Assembly to be out of the country indefinitely for his cancer operation, and the permission could be extended past Jan. 10, Maduro said.