Venezuela has fired the starting gun in a highly charged election race likely to pit Hugo Chavez’s preferred successor, acting President Nicolas Maduro, against centrist opposition leader Henrique Capriles.
The pair have until Monday to register their candidacy for the April 14 vote, which will determine whether Chavez’s self-styled nationalist-socialist revolution will live on in the OPEC nation, home to the world’s largest proven oil reserves.
Chavez died on Tuesday at age 58 after a two-year battle with cancer.
Former vice president Maduro, 50, a hulking one-time bus driver and union leader turned politician who echoes Chavez’s anti-imperialist rhetoric, is seen winning the election comfortably, according to two recent polls.
He pushed a snap election to cash in on a wave of empathy triggered by Chavez’s death, and was sworn in as acting president on Friday to the fury of Capriles.
The 40-year-old Miranda state governor, who lost to Chavez in October but garnered the oppositions’ biggest vote against him, accused the government and Supreme Court of fraud for letting Maduro campaign without stepping down.
“It’s terrible what they have done. They have violated the constitution repeatedly,” said opposition supporter Beatriz Rueda, 62, who works in a Caracas travel agency.
“They have taken over all of the powers, the courts. … The elections must be transparent. We don’t want a confrontation. We don’t want a civil war.”
Maduro, who was sworn in as acting president in Congress on Friday and handed the red, yellow and blue presidential sash, has vowed to carry on where Chavez left off.
He has also adopted his mentor’s touch for the theatrical, accusing imperialists, often a Chavez euphemism for the United States, of killing the charismatic but divisive leader by infecting him with cancer.