Chávez's party sweeps the board in elections
Hugo Chávez’s supporters dedicated their sweeping regional election win to the absent Venezuelan president and turned attention back to his fight to recover from cancer surgery in Cuba.
Helped by sympathy for Mr Chávez, the ruling Socialist Party swept the board in Sunday’s vote, winning 20 out of 23 state governorships in the South American nation.
“That was the people’s present for their commander, painting the country red,” said party national election co-ordinator Jorge Rodriguez.
Government candidates cut the opposition’s previous control of seven states to just three – but there was some compensation for the anti-Chávez bloc in its standard-bearer Henrique Capriles’s retention of Miranda governorship.
That left Mr Capriles, a 40-year-old career politician and lawyer by training, as the opposition’s clear candidate-in-waiting should Mr Chávez’s condition spark a new election.
Though celebrating his Miranda win, Mr Capriles acknowledged the overall national results were bad for the opposition. He accused the government of abusing state resources and exploiting emotions over Mr Chávez’s health during the campaign.
“We Venezuelans pray for the president’s health, but he is in Cuba and Venezuela’s problems need answers,” Mr Capriles said, criticising high crime and jobless rates.
Mr Chávez, in office since 1999, is due to start a new term on January 10th after beating Mr Capriles in October’s presidential vote.
But he has named a successor, vice-president Nicolás Maduro, in case he is incapacitated, a scenario that would trigger a new poll within 30 days.
Though past surveys have shown Mr Capriles to be more popular than any other senior officials, Mr Chávez’s personal blessing for Mr Maduro could transform the situation by firing up emotional supporters who would view him as a proxy for their leader.
“Should there be a presidential vote soon, there is no doubt Capriles is favourite to represent the opposition, but he has a tough challenge,” local pollster Luis Vicente León said. – (Reuters)