Venezuelans head to the polls Sunday in the first presidential election since the death of Hugo Chavez earlier this year. Chavez’s successor, acting President Nicolas Maduro, will defend against a renewed challenge by Henrique Capriles, who lost a relatively close contest to Chavez in the fall of 2012.
Maduro is expected to win, riding on post-Chavez sentiments, though the latest polls show Capriles narrowing the gap to 10 points in a country where opposition to the governing party is likely to be understated.
Both sides held rallies on the eve of the election, with Maduro doing his best to keep Chavez’s personality cult alive. Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona joined Maduro in a visit to Chavez’s grave, already a national shrine.
Though Chavez’s hold on his voters is expected to fade over time, the prospects for the opposition look even shakier if Capriles fails to win. Globovision, the sole remaining television station favoring the opposition point of view, is due to be sold after the election to an ally of the ruling party, the Washington Post reports.
In response, Capriles launched an opposition channel on the Internet. He has also accused the ruling party of violating election rules by broadcasting election propaganda on state-owned television. The ruling party, meanwhile, has accused the opposition of plotting to use Columbian mercenaries to disrupt the election–a report picked up eagerly by Iran’s Press TV. The Iranian regime has long supported Chavez and his party.