Chavez’ Heir Slides in Polls Just Days Before Venezuela’s Crucial Election

By Patrick Goodenough | April 10, 2013 | 4:24am EDT

Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles campaigns in the northern Venezuelan city of Maracay on April 4. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

( – Just days ahead of an election that could impact not just Venezuela but the wider Western Hemisphere, opinion polls show a marked shift in support towards the center-right politician campaigning against the late President Hugo Chavez’ anointed heir.

A survey by the polling company DatinCorp, published this week, found the gap between Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s interim president and the flag bearer of Chavez’ socialist “Bolivarian” revolution, and Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles, had narrowed to a single percentage point.

Maduro’s 44-43 point lead over his rival, which DatinCorp said in electoral terms amounts to a tie, compares to his 45-37 point lead recorded in an earlier DatinCorp poll, published in the second half of March.

Another new poll held even more promising news for Capriles, who as the opposition’s candidate in last October’s presidential election lost to Chavez by 11 percentage points.

Datamatica, an Argentinian pollster, announced earlier this week that Capriles was now almost five points ahead of Maduro in its survey of voting intentions in Sunday’s election, conducted by phone across 18 of Venezuela’s 23 states.

Datamatica’s Ivan Rodriguez told a press conference Capriles’ support had risen from 21.7 to 39.7 percentage points, while Maduro’s had plummeted from 55.6 to 34.9 points.

Rodriguez said Datamatica had a similar trend in Colombia’s presidential election in 2010. (Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos lagged in the polls behind his runoff rival until late the campaign, before winning by a landslide.)

The apparent shift has been dramatic: Since Chavez’ lost his battle with cancer on March 5, the abbreviated campaign to succeed him has seen at least nine previous opinion polls put Maduro in the lead, by as much as 35 points.

On Sunday, Capriles drew crowds of more than 100,000 to a rally in central Caracas, and told his supporters the turnout was further evidence that he would defy predictions and win.

Maduro, who has lashed out at the United States in remarks reminiscent of Chavez, has pledged to appoint a special inquiry to investigate whether the late president was assassinated by being “inoculated with cancer cells.”

Venezuela’s El Universal newspaper quoted Maduro as saying he suspected that Chavez was killed in this way by enemies wishing to “take him out of the road which leads to both the Venezuelan and Latin American people’s revolution.”

He hinted strongly at who he believed was responsible: “The American Empire creates such viruses in order to do experiments; they have been involved in it since 1940,” the paper quoted him as saying. “These are methods of biological war, of germ warfare.”

Meanwhile Maduro continues to use the resources of the state to promote his election campaign.

The official Agencia Venezolana de Noticias state news agency’s website carries multiple reports and photos of Maduro campaign events, while the top story on the presidency website Tuesday was his campaign pledge to hike wages by 35-45 percent this year, along with a photo of him at a campaign rally.

Sunday’s election will determine not just the next steps for Venezuela after 14 years of Chavez’ populist policies at home and hostility towards the U.S., but also have an impact on the future of his leftist regional allies, especially communist Cuba.

The Castro regime received some 100,000 barrels of subsidized Venezuelan oil a day, a boon Capriles has pledged to end if elected.

Cuba’s state media continue to give prominent and supportive coverage to Maduro’s campaign.

“With just five days to the elections in Venezuela, the manifestation of the working class stopped traffic of the central avenue and changed the sound of the horn by slogans in tribute to the late President Hugo Chavez and in support of the Socialist candidate,” Cuba’s state news agency Prensa Latina reported on Tuesday.

It quoted one supporter, a sugar worker, as saying he would lead “all his patrol” to the voting station to vote for Maduro. That “patrol,” Prensa Latina explained, was a “proselytizing mechanism by which everyone invites another 10 to the polls.”

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