Venezuela vote a critical test for divided nation

By the Associated Press | October 7, 2012 | 7:34 AM EDT

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez listens to a question during an impromptu news conference with the foreign press at Miraflores palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012. Chavez is running for re-election against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in Sunday's presidential election. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The polls are opening in Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez's crusade to transform Venezuela into a socialist state is being put to the stiffest electoral test of his nearly 14 years in power.

Chavez's challenger, Henrique Capriles, united the opposition for what has become a contest between two camps that distrust each other so deeply there are concerns about a close election result being respected.

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.