Venezuela holds its breath on eve of presidential polls

The two rivals for the Venezuelan presidency have pulled out all the stops ahead of Sunday’s polls, making their final bids to succeed President Hugo Chavez. The country’s voting authority has promised a fair election, despite allegations of fraud.

Acting President Nicolas Maduro and rival Henrique Capriles closed their campaigns amid massive presidential rallies. Venezuelans will head to polls on Sunday morning to decide whether to stick with Chavez-style socialism, or to move towards a more westernized model of government.

Though former bus driver Maduro maintains a lead in polls, Capriles has been closing the gap during the final days of the campaign.

Capriles hosted massive rallies in the western states of Lara and Apure, while Maduro campaigned in Caracas, styling himself as a humble servant of Chavez’s legacy. He appeared in front of ecstatic followers with two live parakeets on his shoulders – birds have become a symbol of his campaign since his claim that Chavez appeared to him in the form of a bird to bless his candidacy.

Local company Datanalisis published a report saying that around 55 percent of Venezuelans supported Maduro, compared to 45 percent who favor Capriles’ candidacy.

The campaign has been dogged by mudslinging from both candidates, who have leveled accusations of fraud at each other. The latest flurry of allegations came on Friday when the Venezuelan government claimed it had captured Colombian militants supposedly charged by the opposition to disrupt elections on Sunday.

"We've managed to dismantle a plan that would try to influence the election or the post-election period," Vice President Jorge Arreaza said on Venezuelan national television.

Maduro has criticized his opponent throughout the short campaign, branding him as a capricious 'Prince of the Bourgeoisie' who intends to sell out Venezuelan interests to Washington. Capriles, on the other hand, has slammed Maduro for capitalizing on the death of former President Hugo Chavez to drum up support.

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s National Electoral Committee declared that Sunday’s polls would be free of Fraud.

“The results that we give at the National Electoral Committee are indicative of the will of the electorate,” Tibisay Lucena, President of the Electoral Committee said in a statement. “We are a peaceful people with a strong democratic tradition. Our differences will be resolved in the elections.”

Skin deep


Author and international consultant Adrian Salbuchi told RT that Maduro has little or no personal power base, and is surfing a wave of post-Chavez socialism. He cited one of Maduro’s main problems as not having the same charisma and popularity as his predecessor.

“If Capriles wins there will be a complete realignment in favor of the US,”
Salbuchi told RT, adding that a win for Maduro could trigger a US-driven 'Latin American Spring.'

“But either way the prospects are not good for Venezuela,” he concluded, underlining that Chavez’s foreign policy had been one of the crown jewels of Latin American politics over the past decade.

The question is, whether Maduro will be as good in uniting people as Chavez if he wins the election, assistant professor from Drexel University George Ciccariello-Maher told RT.

“Certainly Maduro is as well prepared as anyone to continue this revolution and to push it forward. The task is really going to be - can he unify this Chavez block, can he join everyone together?  Chavez was a master at doing this, to take the left and the center and join them, and to maintain this union if it was necessary. The question is going to be is Nicolas Maduro capable of doing this?”  he said.

Close Call

The upcoming presidential race will result in a “tied election”, but ultimately but ultimately Nicolas Maduro will win, believes Gregory Wilpert, co-founder of venezuelaanalysis.com. He told RT that the main reason for this is that Maduro has the Chavez’s legacy to fall back on.

“He is riding the wave of sympathy in the wake of President Chavez’s death and numerous polls have shown that Venezuelans in general believe that Bolivarian Revolution, as Chavez’s project was known, has been good for Venezuela,” Wilpert explained.

Maduro “has basically taken up Chavez’s program from the re-election campaign last October” that is why Wilpert argues people would ultimately chose him as he is a loyal follower of Chavez, and there is no reason to believe that that he would do anything differently.”  

Maduro will place “less emphasis on foreign policy than Chavez,” Wilpert believes, because he will need to focus a lot more on domestic issues, such as tackling crime in the country. “The success of his presidency will involve whether he can sort the crime problem.”