Election campaign kicks off in Venezuela

2013-04-03 11:00
Venezuelan acting president Nicolas Maduro waves during the opening rally of his campaign in Barinas. (Juan Barreto, AFP)

Venezuelan acting president Nicolas Maduro waves during the opening rally of his campaign in Barinas. (Juan Barreto, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Maracaibo - The presidential campaign to replace Venezuela's Hugo Chavez formally kicked off on Tuesday, with his chosen successor vowing to carry on the deceased leader's socialist revolution.

As acting President Nicolas Maduro visited Chavez's hometown of Sabaneta in the west, opposition leader Henrique Capriles was heading to the eastern state of Monagas at the start of the short campaign ahead of the 14 April vote.

"The bus that is this fatherland has just one driver, and I am your man," insisted Maduro, playing up his humble past as a bus driver and union organiser.

Both candidates have vowed to canvass all 23 states over 10 days in what is shaping up to be an emotionally-charged election to replace the charismatic Chavez, who led the oil-rich nation for 14 years.

The rivals have traded barbs for weeks since Chavez lost his battle with cancer on 5 March, leaving the nation split between supporters of his self-styled socialist revolution and opponents hoping for change.

Double-digit lead

Maduro, aged 50, a former foreign minister and vice president, was joined by hundreds of supporters, officials and Chavez relatives as he visited the late president's family home, now a local headquarters of the ruling PSUV party.

"We will fulfil the will and legacy of president Chavez," an emotional Maduro said, describing the house as the "cradle of the Bolivarian revolution."

"We feel Comandante Chavez within us, like a father. We come to make a commitment with this land that saw his birth, pledge to never fail him and build socialism to its fullest development," he said.

Maduro has a double-digit lead over Capriles in opinion polls, thanks in part to a wave of sympathy after the death of Chavez, who was immensely popular among the poor and other beneficiaries of his oil-funded social programs.

Chavez brought free health care and subsidised food programs to poor areas while reducing poverty, but the opposition points to Venezuela's high murder rate, soaring inflation and shortages of basic goods.

"We are all Chavez; and now we are all Nicolas," said computer technician Francisco Martinez, echoing slogans commonly heard on state television.

Weakened opposition

Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state, gave Chavez his biggest ever electoral challenge in October elections but still lost by 11 points.

While Maduro was on Chavez's home turf, Capriles rallied thousands of supporters to formally launch his campaign in the eastern city of Maturin.

"There is hope here. There is faith here. And there is also going to have to be bravery here," Capriles said under a scorching sun amid a sea of red, blue and gold flags.

"I am going to give it all ... to move this country forward, in the coming days and in the coming years. But I want you to do the same along with me," Capriles urged.

Chavez was unable to attend his 10 January swearing-in ceremony because he was receiving treatment in Cuba at the time, part of a nearly two-year battle with cancer that saw him shuttle back and forth to Havana.

The opposition was further weakened after a big defeat in regional elections in December that left it with only three of 23 gubernatorial seats.

Maduro “not prepared to be president”

Even in death, Chavez is casting a huge shadow over Venezuela, with a myth building around his larger-than-life personality. This could benefit Maduro, who constantly lionises his mentor.

Maduro has compared Chavez to South American independence hero Simon Bolivar, referring to him on Tuesday as a "prophet," a "giant of the fatherland" and the "supreme commander."

Adopting Chavez's man-of-the-people style, the acting president hugged and greeted thousands of supporters, rode a Jeep in the scarlet red of "Chavismo" and crooned along to local music known as llano.

Many of his supporters believe Capriles, a governor and attorney, is better trained and more up to the executive post than Maduro.

"Even if Chavez said people should vote for Maduro, he is not prepared to be president. In his speeches all he talks about is Chavez. He has no policies," said Ana Vazquez, aged 78, who rallied along with her daughter and granddaughter.

The National Electoral Council, which the opposition accuses of being biased towards the ruling party, has called for a peaceful campaign in the politically polarised nation.

"This campaign will take place in a delicate emotional context, so we urge all parties to ... avoid expressions that could strain the electoral environment," said council president Tibisay Lucena.

Read more on:    henrique capriles  |  hugo chavez  |  nicolas maduro  |  venezuela

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

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
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


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.


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.