On Sunday the 1st of June, presidential candidates for Venezuela’s October election officially began campaigning.
The two main candidates are incumbent president Hugo Chávez, currently serving his second term, and opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.
Five other candidates are currently vying for the office: María Bolívar, Luis Reyes, Yoel Acosta Chirinos, Orlando Chirinos, and Reina Sequera.
Chávez launched his campaign yesterday with an 18-kilometer caravan from the city of Mariara to the city of Maracay; both cities are located in the central state of Carabobo. Tens of thousands of supporters turned out dressed in red, the color associated with Chávez’s so-called ‘Bolivarian revolution’.
Chávez, 57, has been largely absent from the public eye because of his battle with cancer; the president has undergone three operations in the last year in an effort to remove two malignant tumors. Recently, however, he has come out to assure supporters that he is recovered and ready for the upcoming campaign.
If he wins, he could stand to hold the presidency for twenty consecutive years.
Launching the official campaign, the president called in particular for his followers to help “convince the undecided”.
Capriles, who states that his “commitment is to reach the most forgotten people”, elected to begin his campaign in the border regions. He first visited the state of Bolívar, near the border with Brazil, and then the state of Zulia, near the border with Colombia.
The 39-year-old former governor of the state of Miranda stated “today we have been in the most beautiful places, but also the most forgotten. Two forgotten populations, ignored by and invisible to a government that swore to attend to the poorest”.
Earlier in June, when Capriles officially declared his candidacy in the National Electoral Council, thousands of supporters marched to support the candidate.
Centre-left Capriles stands for free market economics with social programs; the candidate has spoken positively of Brazil’s government structure.
Chávez’s proposed plan, presented to the National Electoral Council (CNE) on the 11th of June, is structured on five points and centered on continuing state socialism. The president and state-media typically class Capriles as ‘rightist’.
At present, Chávez is showing a double figure lead in most polls. Over a quarter of the 18.9 million voters, however, still identify as undecided and his advantage is less pronounced than it has been in former campaigns.
Media use by presidential candidates is highly regulated by the National Electoral Council (CNE). Candidates have a daily allowance of three minutes of television advertising, four minutes of radio, a half page in standard newspaper and a full page in the tabloid news per day.
The government radio and television stations, however, are not included in the regulations, and so may be used by Chávez without restriction. Government news sources often criticize Capriles.
Controversy recently arose when Globovision, a Venezuelan news channel, was fined for its coverage of a prison riot last year in which over 20 people were killed. Globovision is often critical of the government, and Chavez has accused the channel of supporting a coup attempt in 2002.
Globalvision challenged the $2.1 fine in court, and holds that the fine was an attempt to intimidate the channel in the face of the upcoming elections. Capriles also claims that the fine was an attempt to stifle independent media outlets.
The presidential election will be held on the 7th of October this year, with campaigns closing on the 4th of October.