Politics in Venezuela is not a spectator sport. In an election where voters can choose from two starkly different visions for the future, people on both sides of the political divide took to the streets in huge numbers as campaigning closed Thursday night.
The government of Hugo Chavez promises to continue building socialism by redistributing oil wealth, forging new international alliances, and expropriating assets from “monopolies”.
Led by Henrique Capriles, the opposition wants a social democratic approach, restoring traditional alliances with the US and Europe, an end to foreign oil subsidies and a more business friendly climate.
Governing for 14 years, the Chavez government has reduced poverty and inequality, but crime and inflation have risen. Poverty dropped by 30 per cent between 1995 and 2005, according to the World Bank, while extreme poverty dropped from 32 per cent to 19 per cent. Venezuela has one of the lowest measures of inequality in Latin America.
Crime increased – with the country recording 4,550 murders in 1998 and 19,336 by 2011, according to the Brookings Institute.
As of midnight on Thursday, all campaigning has formally stopped as voters prepare to go to the polls on Sunday for what could be a close race.