Youthful challenger takes on Chavez in Venezuela

2012-02-14 07:29

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan presidential candidate Henrique Capriles on Monday called for "balanced elections" and criticized the use of government money and slanted coverage in state media as President Hugo Chavez seeks re-election.

Capriles is expected to face a tough race against Chavez, who even after 13 years in office remains a hero to many of his supporters and maintains a visceral connection to a significant segment of the poor in Venezuela. Chavez also will likely use a bonanza of public spending as he seeks re-election in the Oct. 7 presidential election.

Capriles complained that government-run television coverage is tilted against him.

"Let's have some balanced elections," Capriles said at a news conference a day after handily winning the opposition's first-ever presidential primary.

The 39-year-old candidate, who is governor of Miranda state, also strongly criticized Chavez's economic policies. He condemned the government's expropriations of hundreds of businesses, apartment buildings and farms over the past decade.

"All the expropriations have been a failure," Capriles said. "The companies that have been seized by the state must be reviewed one by one."

He said some of those businesses could be privatized if he defeats Chavez.

Capriles warned that newly stiffened price controls won't work and predicted many items will become scarce. He said deodorant could start to vanish from stores, laughing as he said that Venezuelans might need to start to live with body odor.

Capriles touted the turnout of about 3 million ballots cast out of 18 million registered voters as a major achievement.

"Venezuela woke up with a new political reality," Capriles said.

Vice President Elias Jaua said that it was positive for the opposition to have recognized the authority of the National Electoral Council. Some Chavez opponents have questioned its independence in the past.

"We hope that this same recognition exists Oct. 7 when Hugo Chavez wins the elections," Jaua said on state television. He said the opposition should respect the electoral council as an impartial arbiter, as well as the role the military will play in maintaining security during the vote.

Chavez has said no one can question the fairness of the country's electoral system, and that his government's spending is aimed at promoting the country's development and addressing the needs of Venezuelans.

About 16 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the primary, far surpassing the opposition's goal of 10 percent to 12 percent.

Venezuelan pollster Luis Vicente Leon called the turnout historic, both for the opposition and for the country. He said previous primaries by Chavez's party haven't drawn so many voters.

Venezuela has grown heavily polarized, with most either admiring or despising Chavez. About one-fourth of voters are in neither political camp, though, and in that group about 10 to 15 percent are likely to cast ballots, Leon said. Many of the swing voters are young people who have grown up during Chavez's presidency, Leon said.

In order to compete, Capriles will likely need to win over voters who leaned pro-Chavez in the past, who have grown disillusioned with the government and don't strongly identify with either side.

Adam Isacson, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, said the opposition seems to be on solid footing.

"They have a charismatic, credible candidate who — since he has spent most of his adult life in Chavez's Venezuela — doesn't carry the baggage of the corrupt governments that came before Hugo Chavez," Isacson said. "And the opposition no doubt benefits from a bout of 'Chavez fatigue' in Venezuela: even many voters who think fondly of Hugo Chavez may feel that 14 years is enough, and his cancer has made many start to envision a post-Chavez Venezuela for the first time in a while."

Chavez's approval ratings have topped 50 percent in recent polls, and his struggle with cancer doesn't appear to have hurt his popularity. The 57-year-old president says he's cancer-free after undergoing surgery and chemotherapy last year, and has been energetic in his hours-long television appearances, apparently trying to show he can still keep up with a younger challenger.

Steve Ellner, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said he thinks one significant hurdle facing Capriles is to try to "challenge Chavez's claim to being the president of the non-privileged as well as the defender of Venezuelan nationalism."

"Capriles needs to come up with a set of concrete measures that are innovative and reach out to the popular classes," Ellner said.

Capriles is a moderate who describes his views as center-left.

He said he expects personal attacks from Chavez to increase, and suggested that he, too, might become more confrontational in response. So far, Capriles has largely avoided direct or personal barbs.

"If they want me to get into the ring, I'll get into the ring," Capriles said.

Capriles said he would welcome a televised debate. Chavez didn't immediately respond to that challenge.

The leftist president said before the primary that all of his rivals represent the interests of the rich and the U.S. government.

Chavez has already kicked his campaign machinery into gear. He has increased spending by launching new social programs that offer cash benefits for the poor and invested heavily in new railways, public housing and cable car systems in Venezuela's hillside slums. As the election nears, he will inaugurate other big-ticket projects that grab attention, including the planned launch of Venezuela's second Chinese-made satellite shortly before the October vote.

Capriles might not be able to compete with Chavez's spending nor his ability to take over the airwaves of all TV and radio stations when he deems appropriate. But Capriles can count on ample campaign funding from anti-Chavez donors, as well as high visibility in opposition-aligned media including the television channel Globovision, private radio stations and newspapers.

Chavez has warned voters that if they don't re-elect him, his social programs called "missions" would vanish. That threat, though disputed by Capriles, could have an influence on some in the run-up to the vote.

Many working-class Venezuelans say they still believe in Chavez and his socialist-inspired program, even as some "Chavistas" openly complain of inefficiency and corruption within his government.

"There are good things and bad things because nobody's perfect, but ... he's helped poor people a lot," said Heidi Lopez, a 33-year-old who raves about the discounted food at government-run markets and plans to vote for Chavez again.

Some of Capriles' supporters say they think he has a good chance of winning over Venezuelans who otherwise might lean pro-Chavez because he has taken a largely non-confrontational approach while promising solutions to problems including 26-percent inflation and one of the highest murder rates in Latin America.

Diego Prada, a 23-year-old marketing manager, said Capriles' inclusive approach resonates among many.

"People are tired of so much confrontation," Prada said.

Thousands of Capriles' supporters celebrated the victory on Sunday night as fireworks exploded overhead. His four defeated rivals promptly united behind Capriles, appearing on stage with him, and pledged to back his campaign.

"In union there's strength!" Capriles shouted to the crowd.

____

Associated Press writer Fabiola Sanchez contributed to this report.

- AP

NEXT ON NEWS24X

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
 

ANCYL: Not voting would be blasphemy

Not voting in the forthcoming elections would be blasphemy, the ANCYL says in a statement commemorating the 50th anniversary of struggle icon Nelson Mandela's Rivonia trial speech.

 
 

Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Thursday Sir Lowry's Pass - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Old Sir Lowrys Pass Road
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Bezweni Road
  • Thursday Cape Town - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Buitengracht Street
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Waterkant Street
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as kalahari.com’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

BlackBerry Bold Touch 9900

The Blackberry Bold Touch 9900 is as the name says...

From R3565.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

There may be a break through, either through quiet contemplative time to connect to your deep side or forced on you by...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.