Caracas: Late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's socialist revolution would be put to test on Sunday when the country goes to polls to elect a new president. Chavez's chosen successor will compete against a younger rival who promises change in the nation that Chavez polarized. Most opinion polls give his protege, acting President Nicolas Maduro, a strong lead over opposition challenger Henrique Capriles thanks to Chavez's endorsement and the surge of grief and sympathy over his death from cancer last month.
Security has been stepped up in various parts of the country, including Caracas. The candidates closed out official campaigning on Thursday with dueling rallies, both drawing hundreds of thousands of boisterous supporters. Taking a page out of Chavez's playbook, a fiery Maduro marched through the streets of the capital draped in a Venezuelan flag and called on voters to follow "commander Chavez as the spiritual guide of the fatherland."
"I am the son of Chavez," the burly 50-year-old former bus driver shouted to supporters in downtown Caracas. "I am ready to be your president," he said. Waving posters of the late president, the crowd sang back the campaign slogan, which rhymes in Spanish, "Chavez, I swear to you, I'll vote for Maduro!"
Capriles, an energetic 40-year-old state governor, wrapped up his second presidential campaign in seven months - he lost to an ailing Chavez last October - in the nearby city of Barquisimeto, pledging to end the divisive politics of the late president's 14-year rule and the rampant crime that is the top concern of Venezuelans.
The presidential vote will be the first time that Chavez isn't on the ballot in two decades, but in many ways the election is all about him. Maduro has cast himself as Chavez's 'first apostle' and has sought to emulate his former boss's fiery rhetoric on the campaign trail.
(With Additional Inputs From Reuters)