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Chavez has big lead ahead of Venezuela election

June 21, 2012

CARACAS: Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez holds a large lead over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles less than four months before the South American OPEC nation’s election, a new opinion poll showed recently.

The survey taken in May by respected local pollster Datanalisis found that 43.6% of voters favour Chavez versus 27.7% for the Democratic Unity coalition’s candidate Capriles.

Chavez’s 15.9 point lead was slightly smaller than a 17.2 point margin in the previous month’s survey by Datanalisis.

The 57-year-old Chavez, who has been battling cancer for a year, remains popular in his 14th year in power due to his oil-financed welfare spending and his enduring emotional connection with the country’s poor majority.

State governor Capriles, 39, however, is drawing big crowds on the campaign trail and exuding an image of youth and energy that he counts on to tip the balance come voting day on October 7.

Datanalisis said the portion of undecided voters in its May survey stood at a substantial 28.7 %  – bearing out analysts’ consensus that there is a lot left to play for.

The Datanalisis survey was in line with most of the country’s best-known pollsters, who give Chavez a double-digit lead with less than four months remaining until the ballot.

Opinion polls are notoriously controversial in Venezuela. Both sides regularly accuse the companies that publish them of being biased and having political links.

“All the serious polls in this country, including one that is totally opposition, give Chavez an advantage of between 16 and 25 points,” said Information Minister Andres Izarra.

“And the campaign has still not started,” he added, referring to the formal July 1 beginning of the election race.

A smaller phone survey conducted by Datanalisis after Chavez and Capriles formally registered their candidacies last week showed Chavez with 42.6%, and 28.8% for Capriles, a slightly narrower lead of 13.8%.

Cancer mystery

In a research note on Tuesday, JPMorgan said the latest polls would not change the market’s perception that Chavez remains the strong favorite to win the election, if he can run.

“That said, polls of all ilk seem to be showing Chavez’s lead over Capriles has stabilized, and in fact may be eroding on the margin,” it said.

“We now think voters are paying more attention, and going forward the market should pay more attention to the polls… Capriles has little time to waste, but we still think it is too early to rule out a more competitive landscape as we get closer to the vote.”

While Chavez appears to be in a strong position, analysts said the volatility of Venezuelan voters and the mystery over his health mean the 2012 presidential race is far from over.

After three operations to remove two cancerous tumors in the last year, and lengthy absences in Cuba for treatment, Chavez has returned to the public limelight in the last two weeks with regular appearances on state TV and in public.

Details of his condition, however, remain a state secret.

Although he is not walking much in public, Chavez has insisted he is recovering and that he will crush Capriles on election day.

Capriles said some opinion polls are skewed and that his nationwide “house-by-house” campaign is gathering steam and putting him on course to unseat the socialist leader.

Both he and Chavez drew hundreds of thousands of supporters onto the streets when they registered with the national election board earlier this month. The opposition candidate wants to end Chavez’s radical, statist policies and install a Brazilian-style “modern left” administration.

Another survey on Tuesday – by pollster Gis XXI, which is run by a former Chavez minister – also gave the president a healthy lead with 57.8% of voter intentions versus 23% for Capriles.

The two candidates sparred bitterly on Monday over the possibility of a face-to-face televised campaign debate.

Chavez said he would be “ashamed” to square off with a “non-entity” like Capriles, while the opposition flagbearer said the president was better at insulting than debating.

– Reuters


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