A re-energised Hugo Chavez, who is seeking a third term in Venezuela’s presidential elections in October, is firing up his supporters as he hits the road to campaign after claiming full recovery from a bout of cancer.
Launching a nationwide tour late on Thursday, Chavez told thousands of supporters in the north-eastern state of Anzoategui that he was “very happy” to be “back in the street again”.
But this was only his second rally since the campaign officially launched early this month, a very slow start for a politician known for his populist style embracing the crowds and a stark contrast with his opponent, the youthful Henrique Capriles, who has already travelled relentlessly across the country.
Capriles, who is the former Miranda state governor, has focused on small towns and remote villages, sometimes visiting two a day.
Surveys show many Venezuelans had doubted until weeks ago whether the firebrand leftist president would stand for re-election after multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation therapy in Communist ally Cuba over the past year.
The exact location and nature of the cancer has never been revealed, with officials only saying that Chavez, 57, underwent surgery to remove cancerous tumours from his pelvis.
But after formally launching his campaign with a mass rally on July 1, Chavez has sought to dispel doubts about his health, increasing his public appearances and announcing this week that he was exercising again and was free to take on the tough election battle without “physical restrictions”.
“Trying to appear as someone who has beat the disease is the best strategy for the president, who is facing a rival in excellent physical condition,” Victor Mijares, a political science professor at Simon Bolivar University, told the AFP.
“Capriles has tried to maintain a frenetic, constant pace of activity that is physically very demanding to show the difference between a candidate on the move who walks in front and a candidate who does not.”
With three months to go before the October 7 vote, most polls put Chavez firmly in the lead. But Capriles, 40, is counting on undecided voters – estimated to be 35 per cent of the electorate.
Capriles has claimed he will defeat Chavez, even predicting a 10-point margin of victory. He has vowed to tackle what he calls the country’s three main problems – poverty, unemployment and violence.
Chavez, a popular leader who has dominated Venezuelan politics – and airwaves – in his nearly 14 years in power, has yet to hint at the level of activity he will engage in over the coming months.
His rallies “are an attempt to neutralise the impact of the Capriles campaign… which lacks the rhetorical capacity of Chavez, and there is enthusiasm among the people who attend,” said Herbert Koeneke, a professor of political science at Simon Bolivar University.
“Chavez is a television phenomenon, with a capacity for empathy with the poorer sectors of society and this will be his key channel, as he lacks the local presence of Capriles in villages.”
Source: News Agencies