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Venezuelans to decide direction of the nation

China Daily | Updated: 2013-04-15 08:14

Venezuelans decide on Sunday whether to honor Hugo Chavez's dying wish for a longtime loyalist to continue his hard line approach to socialism, or hand power to a young challenger vowing business-friendly changes.

Acting President Nicolas Maduro had a double-digit lead in most polls, largely thanks to his former boss' public blessing before he died from cancer last month. But the gap has narrowed in the final days before the April 14 election, with one survey putting it at 7 percentage points.

Venezuelans to decide direction of the nation

A Venezuelan soldier helps a woman in a wheelchair to go to vote at a polling station in Caracas on Sunday. Venezuelans headed to the polls to elect Hugo Chavez's successor. Raul Arboleda / Agence France-Presse

His opposition rival, Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles, says Venezuelans are tired of divisive "Chavista" politics and that his support has surged enough for him to pull off a surprise win.

Experts say that Sino-Venezuelan ties are unlikely to be affected no matter who wins the election, but the difference will be felt in Venezuelan policies with other Latin American countries as well as the United States.

Wu Changsheng, a researcher of Latin American studies at the China Foundation for International Studies, said Sino-Venezuelan relations were not forged on ideological terms but on a win-win principle that has brought great benefits to the people of both countries.

Wang Zhen, former Chinese ambassador to Venezuela, said: "Maduro will continue Chavez's friendship with China, while Capriles will not damage the thriving bilateral ties as he is a smart politician, not a far-rightist as he has been wrongly interpreted."

However, observers say Maduro and Capriles show enormous disagreement over Venezuela's relationship with Washington.

"The US-Venezuelan divergence will continue to brew if Maduro wins the election, but the two countries will never split up, because even at the worst periods of US-Venezuelan relations, Washington and Caracas never stop the oil trade," Wu said.

"But Capriles, allegedly supported by Washington, might show goodwill to the US if he wins the election." Despite their differences, Maduro and Capriles see eye to eye on further developing relations with other Latin American countries, analysts say.

Close ties

"Under Chavez's presidency, Venezuela built close ties with many Latin American countries," Wang said. "Maduro and Capriles, no matter who wins the election, will carry forward this policy to promote further integration and cooperation within Latin America."

Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver who has trumpeted his working-class roots at every rally, is promising to push forward Chavez's "21st century socialism" if he triumphs.

"We're going to have a giant victory. The bigger the margin, the more peaceful the country will be," the brawny, mustachioed Maduro said. "If the gap is smaller, it is only because they (the opposition) managed to confuse a group of Venezuelans."

The winner will inherit control of the world's biggest oil reserves in an OPEC nation whose stark political polarization is one of Chavez's many legacies.

Also at stake is the generous economic aid Chavez provided to left-leaning Latin American governments from Cuba to Bolivia.

From the country's Caribbean coastline to its cities and jungle interior, polling centers were due to open from 6 am to 6 pm, though voting could run longer if there are still lines. Both camps have urged supporters to vote early and be on alert.

Reuters-China Daily

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