CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez named a new vice president on Wednesday, choosing his longtime foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro.
Chavez made the announcement at an event where he was declared the winner of Sunday's presidential election. He called for a round of applause for his outgoing vice president, Elias Jaua, who has held the post since 2010 and is running for a governor's post in December elections.
Maduro has been Venezuela's top diplomat since 2006, and his prominence at government events in recent months had generated speculation that Chavez might choose him as vice president.
Chavez's recent struggle with cancer has also led to questions about whom he could choose as a successor if his illness were to worsen. But Chavez said in June, after a year of cancer treatment that included surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatment, that tests had found he was cancer-free.
The president called the 49-year-old Maduro a "great public servant from all these years on different fronts of battle."
Before becoming foreign minister, Maduro was president of the National Assembly and is an important leader in Chavez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela.
"Look where Nicolas is going, the bus driver," Chavez said, referring to Maduro's days driving a bus in Caracas before he got involved in national politics. "Look how they've mocked him. The bourgeoisie makes fun."
Chavez's close friendship with Maduro goes back to the 1980s, when the leftist president was an army officer and formed a clandestine movement that eventually carried out a failed coup attempt in 1992.
In his youth, Maduro belonged to a small political group called the Socialist League and traveled to Cuba for training in union organizing. Maduro is considered by some observers to be the official within Chavez's inner circle with the closest links to the Cuban government.
Maduro has such a close relationship with Chavez that he often seems to know how the president comes down on just about any issue, and he often is picked to speak on the president's behalf.
Chavez's next six-year term begins in January. He's expected to start making other changes in Cabinet posts while naming allies to run for gubernatorial posts in state elections on Dec. 16.
Jaua is running to be governor in Miranda state, which includes part of Caracas and is currently controlled by opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who was defeated by Chavez in Sunday's presidential election.
Chavez won 55 percent of the vote, beating Capriles by 11 percentage points, which was the president's smallest re-election margin to date.
Chavez said his next term would bring more progress in moving toward a socialist system. He said it's time for a "renewal in the socialist project" and called for his government to become more efficient in solving problems.
"Many things must be corrected," Chavez said.