As Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez prepares for regional elections next Sunday, his biggest opposition yet may come from an unexpected source — his ex-wife.

Marisabel Rodriguez, 43, is running for mayor in Barquisimeto, Venezuela’s fourth largest city, about 162 miles outside Caracas. She is supported by a left-wing independent party Podemos (We can).

She has proved both a political irritant and a social embarrassment for Chavez, who faces falling popularity as he enters elections for 22 governors, 328 mayors and 233 regional deputies.

Since their divorce in 2002 and very public battle over the custody of their daughter, Rosines, the couple have kept Venezuelans entertained by their sparring.

But as Rodriguez stands as mayor in a country which is beginning to turn against Chavez, she might also prove his end in the political arena.

“From the Chavez of today you should know the [Chavez] of before. He doesn’t have much in common with that of 1997,” she said. “If he is not a dictator, at least he seems it.”

Most Venezuelans equally adore and loath Rodriguez. She met Chavez in 1996 and they married the next year when their daughter was two months old. They separated in 2002.

She married her tennis coach months after divorcing the him in 2007. They have not spoken since but their marital sparring has been played out very publicly.

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