About 19 million Venezuelans are voting in hotly contested presidential elections. Voters in wealthy districts of the capital Caracas as well as poor barrios on its outskirts are lining up en masse to cast ballots.
The incumbent, Hugo Chavez, promises to continue building 21st century socialism, while his rival, opposition challenger Henrique Capriles, wants a better climate for business and private enterprise.
Voting is largely, though not exclusively, taking place along class lines. Al Jazeera’s Chris Arsenault toured polling stations in the capital to gauge the pulse of voters.
Hector Diaz, sports co-ordinator, voting in Chacao
|Hector Diaz [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]|
To me, the most important issue is the country.
There have been positive and negative changes in the last 14 years.
Health has gotten better, violence and crime have gotten worse. The government is concerned about what is going on in other countries, but they have not focused on here.
I have a good job, but my salary is not enough because of inflation. You need three or four jobs to cover your expenses.
|Humberto Gandara, carpenter, voting on Victoria Avenue, a lower-middle class district|
|Humberto Gandara [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]|
The opposition campaign says security is the main thing; the government campaign focuses on social programmes.
For me, I think we must continue this process with the social programmes. We must continue to be a free country, working towards true South American integration.
|Monica Gomez, social worker, voting in the poor area of Cota 905|
|Monica Gomez [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]|
My life has changed in every possible sense [since Chavez was elected] due to education and food programmes.
I am a social worker and I see the hospitals; I see kids coming from poor families who benefit from these programmes. My message to whoever wins tonight is that we are all brothers and sisters.
Whoever wins needs to work for the social cohesion of the country. The biggest problem in the last few years has been a lack of security, and corruption – not from Chavez himself but from the people surrounding him.
|Islabel Alexandria, lawyer voting in Chacao|
She didn’t want her photo used [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
We must get rid of this Chavez regime.
The things he has done with private property and insecurity are some of the biggest problems.
Poverty still remains and Venezuela’s money has been wasted. I am quite confident in a victory for Capriles even though I know the polls are close.
Like most people in this wealthy neighbourhood, she didn’t want her photo used.
|Victor Vasquez, mechanical engineer, voting in Victoria Avenue|
|Victor Vasquez [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]|
This election is a choice for the future of the country. It’s a choice between serious democratic institutions that are independent, or a mess. In the political arena, we have lost institutional independence: the courts, the judiciary, congress and the attorney general [are all beholden to Chavez’s political party].
From the economic stand-point, we have lost our ability to manufacture goods and services. Everything became about exchanging oil for foreign goods. That kills employment.
From a social stand-point, we have created a monster, a huge clientelistic state where the regime gives things away in the form of missions under the expectations that people will keep voting for them forever.
Security has basically vanished. When you visit a different country, you have a feeling of freedom and security, rather than being scared every minute of your life. It’s just devastating.
|Coris Veroes, housewife, voting in Cota 905|
|Coris Veroes [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]|
The most important issue for me is that Chavez wins – he is the guy.
He is the only one who will prevent people from starving; he has helped the poor a lot.
He has been an honest man in that he has recognised his mistakes, which you don’t see from many politicians.