PREVIEW: Venezuelan opposition to unite behind anti-Chavez candidate
By Helmut Reuter Feb 9, 2012, 2:13 GMT
Caracas - Opposition leaders in Venezuela are looking to oust President Hugo Chavez by choosing the strongest challenger from their ranks to unseat the left-wing populist from office.
Chavez, who has ruled Venezuela for 13 years, is seeking re-election in the October 7 presidential election.
The long-fractured opposition has now decided to present a united front and will hold Venezuela's first presidential primary on Sunday to nominate a challenger to the presidency for Chavez.
The opposition believes Chavez can be beaten if it coalesces behind a single candidate.
Five candidates from the Coalition for Democratic Unity (Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, or MUD) are vying in the primary.
MUD hopes that more than 10 per cent of the 18.3-million electorate will participate in the primary. A lower turnout would be considered a major disappointment.
All of the candidates have agreed to back the winner against Chavez.
Opinion polls indicate that the front runner is Governor Henrique Capriles of Miranda state. The 39-year-old lawyer has taken every opportunity to mobilize support among Venezuela's youths.
'We have to start on the road toward October 7. Get out and vote. Think of your families and the future,' he told supporters.
'There are some who think they are eternal, but it is the people who remove governments, and it is the people who elect them.'
The other candidates in Sunday's primary are Governor Pablo Perez of Zulia, Venezuela's most populous state; Congresswoman Maria Corina Machado; Diega Arria, a former ambassador to the United Nations; and trade unionist Pablo Medina.
Not surprisingly, Chavez has portrayed the opposition candidates as pawns of the US government.
'The candidate, whoever it is, will be the candidate of capitalism, the candidate of imperialism,' said Chavez, 57, who is still recovering from cancer surgery and chemotherapy.
About 3,700 polling stations will be open Sunday across the country to allow Venezuelans to help pick the nominee.
Around 90,000 people are expected to be employed in the exercise.
Organizers have stressed that the names of the voters will not be made known, and have even promised that the electoral lists will be destroyed 48 hours after the ballot boxes have been opened
'The vote is totally safe. That's a guarantee,' said Capriles.
Once Chavez's challenger has been picked, the presidential campaign can begin in earnest.
The opposition has already highlighted what it considers important issues for voters, such as the precarious security situation, the all-invasive role of the state in the economy and an inflation rate that reached 27.6 per cent in 2011.
Chavez will leave no stone unturned in his efforts to secure another six-year term to consolidate what he calls 'Bolivarian Socialism' in Venezuela, says he needs more than six years to achieve his goals.
'I will do everything I can - on a human and a political level - to stay in power until 2031,' he said. 'From 2013 to 2019, from 2019 to 2025, and from 2025 to 2031 - democratically. That depends on the Venezuelan people.'