The Battle to Unseat Chavez

By Girish Gupta

Less than a week after winning Venezuela's opposition primary, Henrique Capriles Radonski suffered criticism of his Jewish roots, an allegation of homosexuality and was called a "low-life pig" by the man he will fight in October's election, President Hugo Chavez.

To say Capriles is in for a tough few months is to put it lightly.

He is the first serious contender for the Venezuelan presidency during Chavez's 13-year tenure and the state's immense machinery has geared up for the fight.

State television personality Mario Silva read out what he said was a police document live on air last week, alleging that Capriles was caught having sex with a man in a car more than a decade ago. At the same time, state radio personality Adal Hernandez published an essay entitled, "The Enemy is Zionism," on the station's website, decrying Capriles' alleged links to a Jewish business elite.

Capriles, a 39-year-old state governor, won the primary election with 64 percent of the vote. More than 3 million turned out, doubling analysts' expectations. The figure represents around half of those who associate with the opposition voting. That's good news for an opposition that has spent more than a decade hopelessly disjointed.

Receive email alerts

[+] More

Ensuring he didn't get fired up when provoked by Chavez was one of the keys to Capriles' win: "This primary proves that Venezuelans want neither polarization nor aggressive political language," said Carlos Romero, a political analyst at the Central University of Venezuela. "Capriles, with simple speech, managed to penetrate the popular sectors and young people."

Indeed, Capriles' former rival for the candidacy, Maria Corina Machado, frequently attacked Chavez directly, notably during January's State of the Nation address. She called the president a "thief," during his 10-hour address, leading even those who abhor Chavez to steer clear of such a confrontational candidate.

By contrast, Capriles rarely mentions Chavez by name, acutely aware that while the socialist maverick may not be popular in the middle-class areas Capriles is comfortable in, he is still overwhelmingly popular in many barrios. Capturing that audience, including many undecided voters who have become either bored or disillusioned with Chavez, is vital to Capriles' chances of winning in October.

According to local pollster Luis Vicente Leon, 36 percent of Venezuelans make up the so-called "ni nis" - a Spanish expression for "neither nors" - who are undecided on who to vote for. "They are going to decide any election if they vote," he said, adding that the ni nis are largely apolitical.

One of these is 34-year-old cleaner Jesenia Zambrano. "I don't like the way Capriles thinks," she said. "I think Capriles and Chavez are a little similar actually."

1 | 2 | Next Page››

Sponsored Links
Related Articles
May 15, 2012
Grading Medvedev's Foreign Policy - International Institute for Strategic Studies
Girish Gupta
Author Archive