Chavez’s revolution to be tested in polls

Chavez’s revolution to be tested in polls

CARACAS - Reuters
Chavez’s revolution to be tested in polls

Argentina’s soccer legend Maradona kicks a football during a rally for Venezuela’s acting President Maduro. Opinion polls give Maduro a strong lead. AP photo

The late Hugo Chavez’s self-declared socialist revolution will be put to the test at a presidential election on April 14 that pits his chosen successor against a younger rival promising change in the nation he polarized.

Most opinion polls give his protégé, acting President Nicolas Maduro, a strong lead over opposition challenger Henrique Capriles thanks to Chavez’s endorsement and the surge of grief and sympathy over his death from cancer last month. The candidates closed out official campaigning on April 11 with dueling rallies, both drawing hundreds of thousands of boisterous supporters.

Last confrontations

Taking a page out of Chavez’s playbook, a fiery Maduro marched through the streets of the capital draped in a Venezuelan flag and called on voters to follow “Commander Chavez as the spiritual guide of the fatherland.”

“I am the son of Chavez,” 50-year-old former bus driver shouted to supporters. The crowd sang back the campaign slogan: “Chavez, I swear to you, I’ll vote for Maduro!”

Capriles, a 40-year-old state governor, wrapped up his second presidential campaign in seven months in the nearby city of Barquisimeto, pledging to end the divisive politics of the late president’s 14-year rule and the rampant crime that is the top concern of Venezuelans. “We’re going to choose between life and death,” Capriles said.

The presidential vote will be the first time that Hugo Chavez isn’t on the ballot in two decades, but in many ways the election is all about him. If Maduro wins, he will face big challenges from day one as he seeks to control the disparate ruling coalition without his predecessor’s dominant personality or the robust state finances that helped Chavez win re-election last year. Capriles would face an even tougher landscape if he wins. Chavez’s rule thoroughly transformed Venezuela, and nearly all of the country’s institutions are packed with Chavez supporters.