At a rally on Tuesday in the town of La Grita in Táchira state, Henrique Capriles Radonski, the candidate from the opposition’s Democratic Unity coalition, again invited President Hugo Chávez to join him in a debate that would be broadcast on television and radio and would focus on their respective platforms and views for Venezuela’s future. Once again, Chávez refused to debate him.
Capriles emphasized that a debate is important for discussing proposals, among them how to address the violence and insecurity that have led to more than 160,000 deaths in the 14 years of the current government. “”Only one hour, I don’t need five,” he stated, referring to the President’s national messages that often continue for several hours. Chávez’s response: a refusal to debate against “nothing,” dismissing Capriles.
This is not the first time the opposition candidate has called for a public debate. On September 7, he said in a speech in Monagas state: “I challenge them [government officials]. We are going to debate our government proposals. We are going to debate wherever they wish.” The president did not acknowledge this first call for a debate.
The presidential election is 18 days away, and is the fourth time Chávez will face voters. This includes presidential elections in 1998 and 2006 as well as a referendum in 2004. According to Luis Christiansen, president of polling firm Consultores 21, this is the first time in 14 years that the electoral scene looks balanced. His firm’s latest poll indicates that Capriles has 48.1 percent of voter support, with Chávez at 46.2 percent, a slight increase from the firm’s August poll. However, the Consultores 21 poll is the only one that gives the opposition candidate a lead.
“For the first time we have a candidate that is losing spaces [Chávez] and one that is slowly winning them [Capriles]”, Christiansen said in a panel held on Tuesday at Americas Society and Council of the Americas in New York.