Edinburgh, 2nd July 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan presidential election race got underway yesterday with the official campaign launches of both President Hugo Chavez and Henrique Capriles, the two main contenders for the 7 October vote.
“The Bolivarian Hurricane is off!” declared Hugo Chavez to a crowd of thousands of supporters who followed his campaign caravan to the city of Maracay in central Aragua state.
“July has arrived and today the Bolivarian Revolution, the Venezuelan people, launch the general offensive...this battle will ensure the construction of socialism in Venezuela,” he said.
Alluding to a challenging year in which he has undergone two operations for cancer, the Venezuelan president emphasised his readiness to govern for the 2013 – 2019 period. He was first elected in 1998 and is seeking his third constitutional term in office.
Chavez repeated that the aim of his election campaign is to gain 10 million votes and win an “overwhelming” victory, arguing that his Carabobo campaign is beginning in the “best conditions” given that he enjoys a double-digit lead over conservative rival Capriles in most polls. He won the 2006 election with 7,309,000 votes, 63% of those cast.
He told supporters, “I believe if we work like we know how to, without triumphalism, without sectarianism, [and] with arguments and ideas,” then new and undecided voters could be won over.
Promoting social justice and maintaining high levels of social investment, key factors for his government’s enduring popularity, were prominent in his speech.
Chavez also highlighted the importance of national sovereignty and the construction of socialism to the Bolivarian project, which takes its name from South American independence hero Simon Bolivar. He also argued that the presidential election is of international significance.
“Venezuela is at the centre of an international battle,” he said. “The future of humanity is in play here: between socialism and capitalism...in the next 100 days, the next 100 years in Venezuela are going to be decided”.
He contrasted his approach with the “capitalist imperialist project” of the country’s right wing opposition, attacking Capriles as the “candidacy of nothing” compared with Chavez’s “candidacy of the nation”.
Speaking on state television VTV today, head of communication for Chavez’s election campaign, Andres Izarra, noted that Chavez enjoyed far larger crowds at his campaign launch events than rival Capriles.
Chavez also warned the opposition against any attempt at refusing to recognise the result of the election or destabilising the country.
Henrique Capriles Radonski, who is the candidate of the conservative Democratic Unity Table (MUD) coalition, has so far not committed to recognise the results of the 7 October election. He is known for his controversial role in the siege of the Cuban embassy during the opposition’s short-lived coup against Hugo Chavez in April 2002.
Capriles Launches Opposition Campaign
Henrique Capriles chose to launch his campaign in the remote town of Santa Elena de Uairen near the border with Brazil in south-western Venezuela.
“Venezuela is a blessed country. We just lack a good government, and we’re going to offer a good government to Venezuelans,” said the former governor of the central state of Miranda.
He claimed neighbouring Brazil as an inspiration, stating, “Its government understood how to work. Brazil has taken off. Now it’s Venezuela’s turn”.
The Workers Party (PT) of Brazilian presidents Lula da Silva (2003 - 2010) and incumbent Dilma Roussef have repeatedly stated their rejection of Capriles’ self-designation as a “progressive” candidate and have been public in their support for Hugo Chavez.
In his campaign launch yesterday, Capriles also travelled to the north-western state of Zulia, where he focused his discourse on those he charged as “forgotten” by the government, and on aspiring to be the president of “all Venezuelans”.
“Where there is a forgotten Venezuelan that needs our help, we’ll be there to give a hand,” he stated.
Referring himself to Chavez, he told supporters, “I invite you to think of the future while others propose a battle,” continuing, “What wasn’t done in fourteen years, won’t be done in six”.
The presidential election campaign will officially last until 4 October, after which campaigning activities will cease until the 7 October vote.
In what is set to be a key electoral period for Venezuelan politics, the oil-rich South American country will also go to the polls for regional state governor elections on 16 December and local municipal elections in April 2013.