As Venezuela mourns the loss of President Hugo Chavez and people gather in the capital Caracas for his funeral today, we look at one of the candidates to replace the man who became one of the world’s most iconic political leaders. Today we turn our gaze to the leader of the opposition, the moderate centrist Henrique Capriles, and discuss the challenges he faces running against Chavez’s replacement.
Capriles, a 40 year old lawyer and governor of Venezuela’s second most popular state, Miranda, will be running in his second Presidential election after losing to Chavez last October. He exuded youth and was full of promise during last year’s elections, but was unable to overcome his rival despite an enormous effort which cut Chavez’s lead to the lowest it has been in the 14 years since he entered office.
He garnered the opposition’s highest ever support for a presidential election in October, 6.5 million votes, but Capriles’ now challenge is even greater; after disappointing regional election results in December, he is now faced with uniting a divided and demoralized opposition. The trial ahead will be further troubled by the Chavez “sympathy” factor; Maduro was given Chavez’s personal blessing, and it is expected many of his supporters will follow his dying wishes and vote for him instead.
Furthermore, it is expected Maduro will make full use of the weapons of his disposal and use the infrastructure already in place to his advantage; although, as dictated by the constitution, the leader of the National Assembly should take over the leadership of the Executive Power, it is being said Maduro will serve as temporary President instead. Such a post will present him the chance to run in the election with all of the government’s resources at his disposal. He has already been spouting talk of the revolution over the airwaves to the nation, commandeering all national television channels, and prior to Chavez’s death admitted he already was having Capriles “closely monitored” as he visited the USA.
Although Maduro may be better equipped to fight Capriles off, the opposition faces its best chance of winning an election in over a decade. Where Maduro lacks charisma and flare, Capriles excels. He is a formidable campaigner, and has on two occasions defeated officials close to Chavez in state elections. Maduro may hold the upper hand, taking advantage of the grief which has struck nation, but he lacks the persona which made Chavez so popular amongst the Venezuelan people.
Venezuela, a nation in mourning, remains silent. But for how long? Although the exact date of the election is unknown as yet, both Chavez’s supporters and opponents have already commenced their election campaigns. Capriles has begun well, calling for unity and a smooth transition, but he has an opportunity here. Real power lies with the Venezuelan people, and Capriles has been given a second life-line to prove why he should be given the chance to define Venezuela’s future.