With Chavez out of sight, opposition eyes election


As Hugo Chavez recovers in a military hospital, the Venezuelan opposition is huddling to pick a unity candidate in case the ailing president is unable to govern and a snap election is called.

Chavez returned to Caracas eight days ago after two months of cancer treatment in Cuba, but he has remained out of sight, fueling speculation about his health and political future.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro insisted yesterday that Chavez, 58, remained firmly in charge, giving orders to "loyal" subordinates to maintain the country's economic,

political and social life.

But after taking several beatings from Chavez at the ballot box for the past 14 years, the opposition wants to avoid being caught off guard, since elections would have to be called within 30 days if the president is incapacitated.

"The signals are very clear that elections are coming at least in 2013,"Leopoldo Lopez, national coordinator of the Voluntad Popular party, part of the opposition MUD coalition, told reporters.

He said the opposition has begun discussions to pick a candidate. For his part, Henrique Capriles, the Miranda state governor who lost to Chavez in the October presidential election, vowed that the opposition was ready to "face any scenario."

Capriles was picked by an alliance of some 20 opposition parties in an unprecedented primary for last year's election, making him a favorite to represent them again in a new vote.

"The difference between Capriles and the other opposition hopefuls is simply enormous," Luis Vicente Leon, director of the polling firm Datanalisis, wrote on Twitter.

Although Chavez beat Capriles by 11 points, the 40-year-old politician gave the opposition its best score ever against the leftist leader, with 44 percent of the vote.

Before flying to Cuba for a fourth round of cancer surgery on December 10, Chavez named Maduro as his political heir and urged Venezuelans to vote for him if elections become necessary.

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