Venezuela election update

There are technically seven candidates running for president in Venezuela, but only two really bear watching. One is Nicolas Maduro, the acting president, Hugo Chavez’s VP and chosen successor.

His appointment to serve as acting president was controversial. In fact, it was unconstitutional. The Venezuelan constitution states that the national assembly speaker should have become acting president, since Chavez’s cancer prevented him from being inaugurated.

But the speaker, Diosdado Cabello, has accepted Maduro as acting president, so I guess we’re just rolling with this thing.

The other main candidate is Henrique Capriles, currently the governor of Miranda state. He ran against Chavez last October and lost, but has regrouped for a try at the presidency.

Under Capriles, we would likely see improved relations between Venezuela and the U.S. and a shift away from Venezuela’s current engagement with states like Iran. He has also stated that he would not continue nationalizing private companies, although he does not guarantee that expropriated companies would be returned to their former private owners. Capriles names Brazil’s Inacio Lula da Silva as his main political inspiration, indicating that he would support a mix of free market policies intended to stimulate the economy and foreign investment and income redistribution and a social safety net.

One key policy promise he has made is to raise the minimum wage. He also intends to train more police officers to combat Venezuela’s high crime rates.

Maduro is leading in the polls, and his election would likely signal a continuation of most of Chavez’s policies, including strained relations with the U.S. and a strong state role in the national economy, as well as programs providing access to healthcare and education for some of the poorest segments of Venezuelan society.

It would also mean some continued weirdness, for lack of a better term. Maduro has recently said that he was visited by Chavez’s spirit in the form of a bird, and has reportedly threatened that a curse will fall upon those who vote for the opposition in the upcoming election. So…there’s that.

But Chavez remains very popular in Venezuela, and so it is looking very likely that his chosen successor will succeed in the polls this weekend.

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