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Caracas, Venezuela — “This election is not going to be about Capriles versus Maduro, it’ll be Capriles against Chavez’s ghost,” said a Western diplomat in Caracas.
“And how can Chavez supporters go against his dying wishes? Virtually his final words in public were ‘vote for Maduro.’”
Though Capriles has declared himself ready for another election fight and has been gearing up with angry attacks on Maduro as a “liar” and “incompetent,” some in the opposition fear he may be heading for a defeat that could end his career.
He has not yet formally confirmed his intention to run, preferring instead to offer condolences and calls for unity in a society bitterly polarized by Chavez’s 14-year rule.
“Do not be afraid, or anxious … Among us all, we will guarantee the peace this dear fatherland deserves,” he said after Chavez’s death was announced on Tuesday.
Capriles’ electoral chances will hinge first on maintaining the hard-won unity that served the opposition well in the 2012 campaign and ended more than a decade of in-fighting, intrigue and policy differences among several dozen political factions.
Some in the older generation of opposition leaders feel he sidelined them during last year’s campaign, and they will be looking for more of a say this time in return for support.
The biggest challenge, though, will be countering the Chavez “sympathy” factor, the popularity of government welfare programs among the poor, and the huge institutional advantages that Maduro has as the incumbent.
In more than a dozen national votes since his 1998 presidential win, Chavez again and again used state resources - and stacked institutions with his supporters - in what the opposition said was a grossly unfair playing field.
The government counters such accusations by pointing at questionable opposition tactics in the past, including a failed coup against Chavez in 2002, and antagonistic private media.