CARACAS, Venezuela: Less than three months before of the October 7 presidential election, Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chavez, has a 15 percentage-point lead over his opposition rival, Henrique Capriles, according to a recent poll.
Conducted recently by respected local pollster, Datanalisis, the survey showed 46.1 per cent of voters backing Chavez and 30.8 per cent for Capriles, while the rest were undecided or did not respond.
Chavez is seeking a new six-year term as head of South America’s biggest oil exporter, but has been battling cancer for a year and has been unable to match the intensive campaigning of Capriles, a youthful, basketball-loving former state governor.
The 57-year-old president remains popular in his 14th year in power due to massive state spending on social programs and the enduring emotional connection he shares with the country’s poor majority.
Capriles, 40, projects an image of youth and energy and has been drawing big crowds. Some recent polls have shown him narrowing the gap with Chavez, but the latest poll showed the president holding a solid lead. His 15.3 percentage-point advantage was slightly narrower than the 15.9 per cent gap recorded by Datanalisis in May, but still a significant showing.
“As the campaigns heat up, it’s normal for the numbers to begin to get closer,” Datanalisis president, Luis Vicente Leon, told reporters. “Undecided voters continue to be the ones who will define the election.”
Most of Venezuela’s best-known pollsters give Chavez a double-digit lead over Capriles, who is promising to end the president’s radical, statist policies and set up a Brazilian-style “modern left” administration.
Chavez has staged a remarkable recovery from an undisclosed type of cancer that was diagnosed last year and left him all but silent and off the political stage for weeks at a time. He says he is completely recovered after three operations and in recent weeks he has sharply increased his number of public appearances.
In mid-July, he launched a series of big street rallies featuring his typically thundering speeches. Similarly, Capriles recently led a large march through the capital, Caracas, that sought to highlight a key concern of many voters: insecurity and a crime rate that is one of the worst in the world.
Capriles has adopted “The Hurricane of Progress” as a nickname, while Chavez styles himself as the “Bolivarian Hurricane”, which refers to the president’s idol and South American independence hero, Simon Bolivar.
Unable to match Capriles’ cross-country travel because of his delicate health, Chavez is increasingly leaning on the powerful, quasi-religious emotional ties he enjoys with Venezuela’s long-marginalized working classes.
A new campaign video tells voters that “they too are Chavez,” and at a recent rally in the western city of Barquisimeto, he said that even the youngest Venezuelans knew who to vote for.
“The vast majority of children know, from the depths of their genetic inheritance, that the route to the fatherland is with Chavez and victory on October 7!” he shouted, to cheers from thousands of red-clad supporters. “Even though they don’t know how to talk yet, if they could, they would say ‘Chavez!’”