Venezuelans head to the polls Sunday to cast their vote in the 2012 presidential election, which is looking to be the toughest yet for President Hugo Chavez, whose 14-year rule is being challenged by Henrique Capriles.
The stakes are high in this election, as the 58-year-old president’s socialist rule could be stomped out by Capriles, a 40-year-old centrist governor of the country’s second most populous state, Miranda.
Capriles, who is addressing popular discontent with a high crime rate and rampant cronyism to build support, has managed to unite the opposition and promises to weaken the government's iron grip on the economy.
Some recent polls have Chavez at a 10-percentage point lead over Capriles, while others have the two at a virtual tie.
A win for Chavez would likely mean a persistent push for a larger state role in the economy, continued support of other leftist governments in the region, allies such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and possibly an increase in the regulation of private banks. But crime remains a major concern, and Chavez would have to address this issue.
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If Capriles wins, one of the most vocal critics of the U.S. will be removed from power, and hundreds of nationalized companies would likely be probed to see how best to handle them. He has also promised to keep Chavez’s programs geared toward the poor, but to improve how they are administered to the most needy, according to Reuters.
Capriles takes a different approach from Chavez toward fighting crime, however, and he wants to tackle the problem through education.
“Proper education is the long-term solution to our crime problem,” he told the media.
The election mood is tense in Venezuela and guards have already been dispatched to thousands of voting centers.
When asked about vote disputes, Chavez, who recently battled cancer, told reporters in a news conference Sunday that he expects both sides to accept the results.
“It’s a mature, democratic country where the institutions work, where we have one of the best electoral systems in the world,” Chavez said.
Start the slide show to see what this election day looks like in Venezuela.