As recently re-elected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez recovers in Cuba from cancer-related surgery, his political opposition prepares to test its support in the gubernatorial elections Sunday following its national defeat in October.
Henrique Capriles, the governor of Miranda state who lost the presidential election to Chavez two months ago, will face another challenge from the ruling Socialist party as former Vice President Elias Jaua vies for the governorship.
"We are committed to making Chavez happy by showing him that Miranda was liberated from fascism and is being run by a socialist, by his son, which is what I am," Jaua said at a recent rally, Reuters reported.
Chavez's political opposition currently holds seven of the 23 gubernatorial seats in the country. Sunday’s elections will determine whether it has gained or lost support at the state level.
"There are no automatic candidacies," said Pedro Benitez of the opposition party Democratic Action, warning that there was no guarantee that opposition incumbents would hold onto their seats, according to Reuters.
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A Capriles defeat would call into question his leadership of the opposition, which may soon have to mount another presidential campaign should Chavez be unable to continue in office because of his illness.
Under the Venezuelan constitution, if the president leaves office within the first four years of his six-year term, then a new election must be held within 30 days.
Capriles, who received 45 percent of the national vote in October, has posed the greatest electoral challenge yet to Chavez, who received 55 percent of the vote. Capriles would likely run again as the opposition candidate in the event of new elections.
Meanwhile, Chavez has been preparing for such a scenario, appointing Vice President Nicolas Maduro as his political successor last week and asking his supporters to stand behind him should he be unable to continue as president.
"My firm opinion, as clear as the full moon -- irrevocable, absolute, total -- is ... that you elect Nicolas Maduro as president," Chavez said last week, CNN reported. "I ask this of you from my heart. He is one of the young leaders with the greatest ability to continue, if I cannot."
Capriles has not made any reference to the possibility of a second presidential bid in the event of Chavez’s death or incapacitation due to illness, instead remaining critical of ruling party and focusing on holding his governor’s seat.
"The country is full of problems that need resolving," Capriles said at a rally in Miranda, Reuters reported. "During the presidential campaign, so much was promised -- now they have to fulfill that."