Maracaibo, March, 17th, 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Though the electoral campaign is not to officially begin until April 2nd, both sides of the political divide in Venezuela have begun campaigning for the upcoming presidential elections on April 14th.
Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles began in the Andean states of Táchira and Mérida, a sign that he will attempt to repeat his 2012 campaign strategy of whirlwind trips around the country.
The Capriles’ campaign has so far focused almost exclusively on the person of pro-Chavez candidate Nicolás Maduro, attempting to separate him from the image and legacy of Hugo Chavez.
Capriles has claimed that Maduro does not have the same popular support as Chavez, and that he is an inept politician.
“Don’t hide behind Chavez’s image. Let Chavez rest in peace,” said Capriles from the Andean city of La Grita.
Capriles accused Maduro of being afraid of his campaign, and attempting to block his trip by closing the airport in Táchira. Aiport authorities, however, reported that the closing had been due to heavy rains in the area.
“Nicolás, I know you are watching me. I don’t have a teleprompter or anyone telling me what to say. I’m going to beat you with votes…You don’t have any supporters, because they were supporters of Chavez, not yours,” he said at a rally in the city of Mérida.
The Capriles campaign has also accused Maduro of using Chavez’s death to his advantage, and filed a complaint with the electoral arbiter on Saturday for the state channel’s recent broadcast of Chavez’s last message to the Venezuelan people in which he called on them to vote for Maduro.
“The government should have edited out the parts where [Chavez] calls on the people to vote for Nicolás Maduro,” they claimed, arguing that this gives Maduro an unfair advantage.
Meanwhile, Interim President Nicolás Maduro has also been very active publically and on television in recent days.
On Saturday, Maduro held a public event in the Caracas neighborhood of Catia with representatives of the various government programs known as “missions”. Maduro promised a continuation of these programs under his government.
“Chavez is the father of these missions, and we are going to guarantee the people that these social programs continue. We are going to improve them and strengthen them,” he said.
Maduro also criticized once again the claims from the Capriles campaign that Chavez’s death was planned.
“Just think about it, what one must have in their heart to attack the president’s family at a time like this,” he said.
During a televised interview on Sunday, Maduro called the Venezuelan opposition “a minority that is full of hate” and assured that the Venezuelan people would punish them at the ballot box for “insulting Chavez during his whole life”.
Though it is clear that both sides have begun campaigning, Maduro said the rules of the electoral campaign should be followed, and that the campaign should not begin until April 2nd.
“We will have the electoral campaign from April 2nd to the 11th. We respect the electoral arbiter. Meanwhile, the government has to get to work, the people and the government have to get to work,” he said.
US Comments on Elections
Meanwhile, the US’s Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson said in an interview published on Friday that “it would be difficult” for Venezuela to have clean elections.
“We believe that the Venezuelan people deserve open, fair, and transparent elections in which all can vote with confidence that their decision will be respected,” she said.
“That will be a little difficult, but that is what Venezuelans and the international community should support,” she said, insisting that international observers should be invited to monitor the elections.
The US official went on to say that “Capriles could be a very good president” but assured that the US does not favor one candidate over the other.
Jacobson also implied that the elections were called too quickly, even though the Venezuelan constitution mandates a 30-day period, and claimed Venezuela does not have a “free press”.
Venezuela’s National Electoral Commission (CNE) rejected Jacobson’s statements on Sunday, calling them a “provocation”, and assuring that “Venezuela has an electoral system that guarantee’s the sovereign decision of the electorate because it is audited at each step of the process”.
“How is it that [the United States] demands others to have international observers, when they don’t allow them for their own elections?” said CNE head Tibisay Lucena.
The CNE has invited an electoral observation team from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), as well inviting national non-governmental electoral watchdogs to accompany the presidential election.
Former US President Jimmy Carter, who heads The Carter Centre NGO, described the Venezuelan electoral system “the best in the world” during last October’s presidential election.
Government officials used the opportunity to question Capriles’ connection to the US, and whether he accepts their support.
“Will Capriles accept the explicit backing of Washington?” said Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas via Twitter.
Meanwhile, Capriles continued on the campaign trail on Sunday in the Western states of Zulia and Falcón.