CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela's presidential election pits incumbent Hugo Chavez against challenger Henrique Capriles. Sunday's vote will determine who governs the country for a six-year term from 2013 to 2019.
Hugo Chavez, 58, has been president since 1999. As an army paratroop commander, he led a failed 1992 coup attempt. He was jailed, later pardoned and elected president in 1998. He survived a short-lived 2002 coup. His Bolivarian Revolution movement, named after 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar, is moving Venezuela toward socialism, he says. Chavez has twice won re-election. His only clear electoral loss came in 2007, when voters rejected constitutional changes. Chavez announced in June 2011 that he had a cancerous tumor removed from his pelvic region. He has since undergone another surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He now says he is cancer-free.
Henrique Capriles, 40, a former state governor, won a first-ever opposition presidential primary in February. Capriles won a congressional seat at age 26. He was a Caracas district mayor and in 2008 defeated a Chavez ally, Diosdado Cabello, to become governor in Miranda state, which includes part of Caracas. Capriles describes his views as center-left. He says he admires former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's promotion of pro-business policies while also funding social programs for the poor.
WHY IT MATTERS:
DEMOCRACY, OIL AND CHAVEZ'S LEGACY
The election will determine whether Chavez's drive for a socialist system prospers or is thwarted.
— If Chavez wins and he has truly beaten cancer, he would have at least until 2019 to cement his political legacy. Opponents say that would likely mean an acceleration in the erosion of civil liberties. Chavez has been a leading voice against U.S. influence in Latin America, though his clout has waned since his mid-2000s heyday.
— If Capriles wins, he would become Venezuela's youngest president ever. He would likely reopen the spigot to non-state foreign investment by halting expropriations of private companies. OPEC says Venezuela has the world's largest proven oil reserves, and Capriles says he would manage the oil industry differently. He says the state-owned oil company PDVSA, which critics allege has become an inefficient patronage machine, would remain under government control but be better managed.
— Chavez has been in office longer than any other elected president in Latin America, amassing almost complete control of the government. Human rights and press groups call him repressive for actions including forcing an opposition-aligned TV station off the air. Chavez's supporters say he has paid more attention to the poor than any politician who came before him. They say Capriles will turn his back on the poor.