Venezuela candidates push for votes

Final rallies held as Chavez calls for voters to turn out to ensure his supporters retain two-thirds majority.

Hugo Chavez has been rallying support to maintain his two-thirds majority in Venezuela’s legislature [Reuters]

Rival candidates have wrapped up their final campaign rallies as Venezuelans prepare for legislative elections in which 165 seats in the National Assembly are up for grabs.

Hugo Chavez, the president, has been on the campaign trail in an attempt to keep the two-thirds majority his supporters have in the legislature.

Chavez is not up for re-election on Sunday but he is hoping a good showing this weekend will consolidate his power.

“We’re going to give them a beating,” Chavez told supporters in the city of Barquisimeto on Thursday as he called for an overwhelming victory.

He denounced his opponents as “the Yankee empire’s candidates” and, as he has often alleged during his 11-year presidency, accused them of backing his critics in the US.

The assembly has been almost entirely pro-Chavez since opposition parties boycotted the last vote in 2005, citing concerns about electoral fraud.

United opposition

However, a united opposition is aiming to win a majority in the elections, or at the very least to prevent Chavez from keeping a two-thirds majority in the unicameral legislature.

The opposition parties have formed a single bloc to try to reduce the ruling party’s political clout [Reuters]

Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, the secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Unity Table, said that Chavez’s candidates enjoy advantages in campaigning, including benefitting from public funding and ample TV time.

“It’s a fight of David against Goliath, and it’s going to end as the Biblical fight did,” Aveledo told The Associated Press news agency in an interview.

He also said the opposition will accept the election results as long as they are transparent.

“Where the result is transparent, we recognise it. Where it isn’t, we don’t,” Aveledo said. “If they cheat us, we don’t recognise [the result].”

Opposition candidates also held rallies on the last day of campaigning.

“We want to construct a Venezuela that makes us feel proud,” Maria Corina Machado, an opposition candidate, told a rally in the city of Los Teques, located on the outskirts of the capital, Caracas.

“Those of us who believe that is possible are the majority, and we’re going to it together.”

Gains expected

Greg Wilpert, a political analyst, told Al Jazeera that the opposition “will gain tremendously no matter what happens” after their boycott of the previous elections.

“But there is also an element of frustration with Chavez’s base because of the economic situation and the main campaign issue of crime and insecurity, which the government has tried to address but failed to convince its supporters,” he said from Caracas.

A recent study, however, showed an improving economy, Wilpert said, adding that the government has been able to avoid any serious upswing in unemployment or poverty because of its social programmes.

“There have been no allegations of electoral fraud so far… in fact the opposition is going out of its way to argue that this is going to be a fair election,” he said, adding that they wanted to encourage people to come out and vote.

About 17.5 million Venezuelans are registered to vote, and more than 300 candidates are competing in the elections. Officials have said about 250,000 troops will guarantee security during the elections.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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