Venezuela election race starts, opposition at disadvantage
Venezuela’s charged election race kicked off on Sunday with throngs attending mass at the coffin of deceased leader Hugo Chavez and vowing to back his preferred successor, Nicolas Maduro, over likely opposition contender Henrique Capriles.
The pair have until Monday to register their candidacies for the April 14 vote, which will determine whether Chavez’s self-styled nationalist-socialist revolution will live on in the OPEC nation, home to the world’s largest proven oil reserves.
Chavez died on Tuesday at age 58 after a two-year battle with cancer.
Former vice president Maduro, 50, a hulking one-time bus driver and union leader turned politician who echoes Chavez’s anti-imperialist rhetoric, is seen winning the election comfortably, according to two recent polls.
Maduro pushed a snap election to cash in on a wave of empathy triggered by Chavez’s death, and was sworn in as acting president on Friday to the fury of Capriles.
The boyish 40-year-old Miranda state governor, who often wears a baseball cap and tennis shoes, lost to Chavez in October. But he won 44 percent of the vote – the strongest showing ever by the opposition against Chavez.
Capriles has accused the government and Supreme Court of fraud for letting Maduro campaign without stepping down.
Although the ruling Socialist Party is favored to win, opposition supporters are trying to raise their spirits for a month of campaigning.
“There’s no reason to think that the opposition is condemned to defeat,” Teodoro Petkoff, an anti-government newspaper editor, said on his Sunday morning talk show.
Maduro has vowed to carry on where Chavez left off.
His first official meeting on Saturday was with officials from China, who Chavez courted to provide an alternative to investment that traditionally came from the United States.
He has adopted his mentor’s touch for the theatrical, accusing imperialists, often a Chavez euphemism for the United States, of killing the charismatic but divisive leader by infecting him with cancer.