What to watch for when the polls open and close in Venezuela on Sunday

By: /
October 5, 2012

On Sunday, October 7, Venezuela will hold its presidential election, with incumbent Hugo Chavez facing off against Henrique Capriles. The world will be watching the outcome, the fairness of the electoral process, and how neighbouring states (as well as the United States) respond.

Chavez is bidding for another six-year term as president, leading the leftist Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela). His primary challenger is Henrique Capriles Radonski, who is representing the centre-right Movimiento Primero Justicia (Justice First Movement) and was, until he stepped down to pursue the presidency, the  governor of the state of Miranda. (Check out Retuers’ fact box for Capriles’ platform).

CFR’s blog post outlines the high stakes for Chavez and the leftist socialist revolutionary movement he stands for: if Chavez goes down, there could be an opportunity for a very different kind of Venezuela and a shift in U.S.-Venezuelan relations. There could also be serious post-election instability, which could in turn provoke intervention by Venezuela’s neighbours. 

According to some, Chavistas stand a good chance of not being disappointed on Sunday (although the still uncertain state of Chavez’s health raises questions as to whether they can count on another full six years under his rule), while others point to polls that show Capriles pulling ahead.

The Chavez “fear factor” may drive even those who detest his rule to cast a ballot in his favour, for fear of losing government jobs or state allocated benefits. Some argue there is a chance for a “qualified” fair election, but election-related violence has already claimed three lives. Still, the Globe and Mail has argued that Chavez’s rhetoric about civil war – an attempt to scare the wealthy into voting for him – is indicative of his fear of the strength of the opposition.

Before Sunday, PBS Fronline’s 2008 documentary on Hugo Chavez is definitely worth watching:

(To view chapters 2 through 8, please visit the documentary’s website. You can also view the documentary in Spanish.)

After which, you can test how well you know Chavez with The Christian Science Monitor’s Chavez 101 quiz.