The whirlwind presidential campaign between Nicolás Maduro and Henrique Capriles Radonski is now officially over in Venezuela. After a rapid 10 days of marches and packed political rallies, the campaign closed Thursday night as hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans gathered in streets across the country in massive displays of support for each of the rival candidates.
Maduro, the chosen successor of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez who inherits Chávez’s ruling political party, the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV), closed his campaign in Caracas, filling seven of the largest avenues in the capital city with supporters from all over the country.
Capriles, the former governor of the state of Miranda and now the unrivaled leader of the Venezuelan opposition, finished his race in Barquisimeto, the capital of one of three states currently held by the opposition, in what was the largest public event to ever take place in that part of the country.
Now the campaign is over and Venezuelans around the world wait anxiously to vote on Sunday.What is a stake in this new round of elections is the future of Venezuela in the post-Chávez era. One path offers to continue Chávez’s political project and promises to correct the vices and many shortcomings of the ruling administration. The other path offers a change and delivers a message of national unity, vowing to end the 14-year mandate of Chávez’s political forces.
The campaign will go down in history as a surreal chapter for democracy in Venezuela. Maduro claimed to have contacted Hugo Chávez in the form of a bird overhead as he prayed in a chapel. Meanwhile, a defeated and cornered opposition managed to rally its forces and build an unlikely and fervent revival.
As is the case in a brief campaign, the latest polls reflect a reality that is changing by the minute. Before the start of the race, the polls signaled a 10 percentage point lead for Maduro over his rival. If the elections had been held then, those could have been the final numbers.
But the past few days indicate that Sunday’s results could point to a much smaller difference between the candidates. We’ve seen Maduro face the complex task of replacing a man who made himself irreplaceable and Capriles show himself as a more experienced national figure.
Two other recent developments could also change the expected outcome of Sunday’s elections:
For one, for the first time in last 14 years, Venezuela’s ruling party has begun to openly talk about crime and murder rates in the country. This is a clear step forward for all Venezuelans. According to last year’s reports, an average of 44 people were murdered daily in 2012, making Venezuela one of the world’s deadliest countries. This short and bitter campaign period put the gravest issue facing the country on the national agenda. This is positive and important.
Second, the government’s abuse of power during the rough campaign period did not go unnoticed. The government held public rallies featuring children who pledged allegiance to Maduro, a violation of Venezuela’s electoral law. In the public eye, Maduro used his position as interim president to further his personal presidential candidacy. No democratic society should tolerate such abuse of its laws and institutions. This is something the country will also remember.
Will all of this be enough to unseat Maduro? Could the multiple variants of a post-Chávez Venezuela change the country’s power relations? Once again, Venezuelans go to the polls this weekend to make this decision.