Belfast Telegraph

Home News World

Stakes high as Venezuelans vote

President Hugo Chavez's crusade to transform Venezuela into a socialist state is being put to the stiffest electoral test of his 13 years in power in a closely-fought presidential election.

Reveille blared from campaign vehicles around the capital Caracas to awaken voters and the bugle call was later replaced by folk music mixed with a recording of Mr Chavez's voice saying "those who love the homeland come with me".

Mr Chavez's challenger, Henrique Capriles, has united the opposition in a contest between two camps that distrust each other so deeply there are concerns whether a close election result will be respected.

Many Venezuelans were nervous about what might happen if the disputes erupt over the election's announced outcome.

But speaking after casting his own vote in Caracas, Mr Chavez insisted he will accept the results of the election. He said: "We'll respect the results, whatever they are."

He also said people are turning out in massive numbers to cast their votes. Mr Chavez was greeted at the polling centre by American actor Danny Glover and Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu.

David Hernandez, a Chavez supporter, said: "Chavez is going to win and Capriles will have to accept his defeat. If Capriles doesn't accept his defeat, there could be problems."

Lissette Garcia, a 39-year-old Capriles supporter who voted in the affluent Caracas district of Las Mercedes, said: "I'm really tired of all this polarisation. I want to reconnect with all my friends who are 'Chavistas'."

Mr Chavez's critics say the president has inflamed divisions by labelling his opponents "fascists", "Yankees" and "neo-Nazis", while his backers allege Mr Capriles would halt generous government programmes that assist the poor.

During Mr Chavez's final rally on Thursday in Caracas, he shouted to the crowd: "We're going to give the bourgeoisie a beating."


From Belfast Telegraph