Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles easily won a primary election on Sunday to become the unity candidate against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, vowing to end 13 years of socialist rule that he said has left the OPEC nation in crisis.
Capriles’ candidacy had a firm start as unexpectedly high participation of nearly 3 million people in the primary vote signaled the opposition can mobilize supporters ahead of the Oct. 7 presidential election.
The 39-year-old, center-left state governor’s bid was further bolstered by a show of unity among other candidates from the opposition, which for years suffered from internal disputes that ultimately benefited Chavez.
Chavez RIDING HIGH
Yet with Chavez riding high in polls, still popular among the poor and spending massively on welfare projects, Capriles will need to go beyond the vague promises and feel-good factor of his primary campaign if he is to unseat the president.
“This is about the unity of all Venezuelans that want progress,” Capriles told thousands of cheering supporters gathered outside his campaign headquarters on Sunday night. “We have a country in crisis and a government dedicated only to partisan politics.”
His strong showing, winning 62 percent of the primary vote, will likely lift Venezuelan bonds, which react well to any news suggesting a change from Chavez’s state-centered economic model.
Capriles says he will maintain the best of Chavez’s welfare policies, while only gradually dismantling controversial measures that include price and currency controls plus nationalizations of everything from farms to oil service companies.
However, it will be a hard sell to convince voters in Venezuela’s rural backwaters and urban slums won over by Chavez’s potent combination of fierce nationalism, abundant charisma and huge welfare programs.
State media immediately began describing Capriles as a “right-wing” candidate, with one prominent late-night commentator questioning the opposition’s figure of 2.9 million participants.
Heavy on generalizations and in a hoarse voice, Capriles’ acceptance speech showed his public style is still far behind the smoothly loquacious Chavez, who recently spoke for a record-breaking nine-and-a-half hours in a speech to Congress.
“The guy may have won the primaries, but he’s so lacking in charisma, it’s not going to be easy for him,” Venezuelan Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Temir Porras said via Twitter.