Venezuela waits for election details

2013-03-09 20:42
The flag-draped coffin containing the body of Venezuela's late president Hugo Chavez is taken from the hospital where he died. (Ricardo Mazalan, AP)

The flag-draped coffin containing the body of Venezuela's late president Hugo Chavez is taken from the hospital where he died. (Ricardo Mazalan, AP)

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Caracas - Venezuela on Saturday was awaiting a key ruling from the nation's elections commission about details of a vote to replace Hugo Chavez, including a possible date for the poll.

The constitution mandates that elections be called within 30 days of Chavez's 5 March death, though some have speculated the country will not be ready to organise a vote in that time frame.

The National Election Commission scheduled an announcement amid increasingly strident rhetoric on both sides of this politically polarised country.

Chavez's boisterous, passionate state funeral on Friday often felt like a political rally for his anointed successor, Nicolas Maduro, who eulogised him by pledging eternal loyalty and vowing to never be defeated.

Maduro was sworn in as interim leader late on Friday, delivering a strident speech that took shots at the US, the media, international capitalism and domestic opponents he often depicted as treacherous.

Army allegiance

He claimed the allegiance of Venezuela's army, referring to them as the "armed forces of Chavez", despite the fact the military is barred from taking sides in politics.

The opposition has denounced the transition as an unconstitutional power grab, and likely standard-bearer Henrique Capriles said his side was studying its strategy for the vote, which will be held in the shadow of the government's efforts to immortalise Chavez.

Since his death, the former paratrooper has been compared to Jesus Christ and early 19th century Venezuelan liberator Simon Bolivar, and the government announced that his body would be embalmed and put on eternal display.

Venezuelan television on Saturday showed a long line of people still filing by Chavez's glass-topped coffin, which has been on display since on Wednesday. Many had waited through the night for a brief glimpse of their former leader.

In his acceptance speech on Friday, Maduro warned the opposition not to boycott the vote.

"That would be a grave error," he said.

Opposition figures have said they are concerned about the vote's fairness, particularly given the public vows of allegiance to Chavez from senior military officials. Capriles lost to Chavez in 7 October elections, but he garnered 45% of the vote.

A boycott of 2005 legislative elections was widely seen as disastrous for the opposition. It let Chavez's supporters to win all 167 seats, allowing him to govern unimpeded by any legislative rivals.

In the streets on Saturday, many Venezuelans said they expected the opposition to take part in the poll, which will decide the president for the next six years.

"They will be present, yes, they will take part in the election," said Benito Villalba, a 62-year-old retiree who said he would vote for Maduro.
Read more on:    hugo chavez  |  venezuela

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