Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will be seeking an unprecedented third 6-year term when voters go to the polls on Oct. 7. But this time, the challenge from opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski is expected to be credible, in what many analysts believe will be Chávez’s closest contest since his initial election in 1998.
Capriles was able to unite a historically divided political opposition by winning the February 2012 primary in decisive fashion, taking 62 percent of the popular vote. His victory galvanized a wide spectrum of political parties behind a single opposition candidate for the first time since Chávez took office more than a decade ago. While polling data in Venezuela is considered largely unreliable, the race has tightened of late, with certain polls showing Capriles, the politically moderate former governor of the state of Miranda, edging closer to the incumbent president.
Additionally, Chávez’s lengthy fight with cancer, which may or may not be in remission, has prompted further speculation regarding Venezuela’s political future. With no named successor in place, analysts have spent the past year handicapping potential replacements should Chávez be forced to retire from public life, either before the election or, in the event of a successful outcome next month, shortly afterward.