Venezuela has entered a bitter election race to succeed late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, with his chosen successor branding his challenger a “fascist” after the opposition candidate accused him of exploiting Chavez’s death.
Miranda State Governor Henrique Capriles on Sunday accepted the nomination of the main opposition coalition for the April 14 election, immediately launching a broadside against Acting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro by accusing him of being “sick with power.”
“Nicolas, I won’t leave you an open path, mate. You are going to have to defeat me with votes,” said Capriles, who lost the presidential election in October last year to Chavez by 11 points and faces an uphill battle against Maduro.
Chavez, whose socialist revolution polarized the oil-rich nation, is casting a huge shadow over the election, with throngs of supporters flocking to see his body, lying in state since Wednesday last week at a Caracas military academy.
Maduro said the government will embalm Chavez’s body to be viewed “like Lenin” in a glass casket “for eternity.”
“Now on top of it all, you are using the body of the president to stage a political campaign,” Capriles said.
After weeks of rumors about Chavez’s health, Maduro went on national television on Tuesday last week to tell the nation that the firebrand leftist had lost his two-year battle with cancer at the age of 58.
“Nicolas lied to this country,” Capriles said, adding that Maduro had been buying time during Chavez’s illness to prepare the election. “Who knows when president Chavez died?”
Chavez traveled to Cuba on Dec. 10 last year for a fourth round of surgery and was never heard from or seen in public again. He returned to Caracas on Feb. 18, but was not seen until his death.
Maduro went on state-run television minutes after Capriles’ press conference, standing in front of a picture of Chavez as he accused his rival of trying to foment violence with “disgusting” accusations.
“His mask has fallen and we can see his nauseating, fascist face,” he said, warning that the Chavez family was reserving the right to take “all legal action to defend the honor of president Hugo Chavez.”
Amid popular pressure to place Chavez alongside South American independence hero Simon Bolivar in the national pantheon, Maduro said he would propose a constitutional amendment today to the legislature to have Chavez moved.
The move would lead to a referendum in 30 days that could coincide with the presidential election.
Luis Vicente Leon, director of pollsters Datanalisis, said the grief over Chavez’s death gives the government an advantage in the race.
“It will be a battle between the divine and the human,” he said.
“It’s not a race between Capriles and Nicolas Maduro. It’s a race between Capriles and Chavez,” political scientist Farith Fraija said.
Capriles accused the government again of abusing its power and violating the constitution by swearing in Maduro as acting president on Friday, arguing that he should have stepped down to run for office.
Maduro countered that the opposition conveniently misinterpreted the constitution and that his inauguration followed the wishes of his predecessor, who had asked the nation to elect him if he died.
A recent survey by pollsters Hinterlaces gave Maduro a 14-point lead, though Capriles has questioned the firm’s reliability in the past.