Venezuela Votes in Chavez's Toughest Test

Henrique Capriles could topple enigmatic president

By Newser Editors and Wire Services

Posted Oct 7, 2012 7:30 AM CDT

(Newser) – Just try sleeping in on Election Day in Hugo Chavez's Venezuela: Trucks blared reveille to awaken voters today as Chavez's crusade to transform Venezuela into a socialist state was put to the stiffest electoral test of his nearly 14 years in power. Later, folk music poured from loudspeakers, mixed with a recording of Chavez's voice saying "those who love the homeland come with me." Chavez's challenger, 40-year-old Henrique Capriles, united the opposition for what has become a contest between two camps that distrust each other so deeply there are concerns whether a close election result will be respected.

The stakes couldn't be higher. If Chavez wins a new six-year term, he gets a free hand to push for an even bigger state role in the economy, further limit dissent, and continue to befriend rivals of the United States. If Capriles wins, a radical foreign policy shift can be expected along with an eventual loosening of state economic controls and an increase in private investment.

Members of the Bolivarian militia, a militia created by President Hugo Chavez estimated to number more than 100,000 who do not report to the armed forces, stand at a checkpoint in the 23 de Enero neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012.  Chavez is running for re-election against...
Members of the Bolivarian militia, a militia created by President Hugo Chavez estimated to number more than 100,000 who do not report to the armed forces, stand at a checkpoint in the 23 de Enero neighborhood...   (Rodrigo Abd)
People walk by election campaign posters of President Hugo Chavez and a picture of independence hero Simon Bolivar in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012. Chavez is running for re-election against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in Sunday's presidential election.
People walk by election campaign posters of President Hugo Chavez and a picture of independence hero Simon Bolivar in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012. Chavez is running for re-election against...   (Rodrigo Abd)
Election campaign posters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez are pasted on a wall next to paintings of historical indigenous leaders in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012. Chavez is running for re-election against opposition leader Henrique Capriles in Sunday's presidential election.
Election campaign posters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez are pasted on a wall next to paintings of historical indigenous leaders in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012. Chavez is running...   (Ramon Espinosa)
Residents buy subsidized food at a government market in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012. President Hugo Chavez is running for re-election against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in Sunday's presidential election.
Residents buy subsidized food at a government market in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012. President Hugo Chavez is running for re-election against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in Sunday's...   (Rodrigo Abd)
A man hits a metal plate with a spoon through a wall during a pot-banging protest against Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday Oct. 6, 2012. Chavez is running for re-election against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in Sunday's presidential election.
A man hits a metal plate with a spoon through a wall during a pot-banging protest against Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday Oct. 6, 2012. Chavez is running for re-election...   (Ramon Espinosa)
Residents wait for a polling station to open to vote in presidential elections in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. President Hugo Chavez is running against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.
Residents wait for a polling station to open to vote in presidential elections in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. President Hugo Chavez is running against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.   (Fernando Llano)
A giant inflatable doll representing President Hugo Chavez stands on top of a building in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012. Chavez is running for re-election against opposition leader Henrique Capriles in Sunday's presidential election.
A giant inflatable doll representing President Hugo Chavez stands on top of a building in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012. Chavez is running for re-election against opposition leader Henrique...   (Ramon Espinosa)
A defaced campaign poster of opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles hangs in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012.
A defaced campaign poster of opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles hangs in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012.   (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
A defaced election campaign poster of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez hangs in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012.
A defaced election campaign poster of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez hangs in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012.   (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
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