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Chavez woos voters by raising specter of chaos if he loses

09 september 2012, 10:32
0
Never one to mince his words, President Hugo Chavez is warning of instability or even outright civil war in oil-rich Venezuela if he is not re-elected next month, AFP reports.

The dire warning from the populist treated for cancer over the past year is largely seen as a gambit to woo undecided voters ahead of the October 7 vote.

Chavez has been in power for nearly 14 years and is seeking another six.

He has warned repeatedly that if the opposition candidate Henrique Capriles wins, government would wipe away subsidized food, health care and housing programs that are pillars of what Chavez calls his socialist revolution.

Capriles has a hidden neo-liberal agenda that "aims to take us back to a Venezuela that would not withstand this and would again enter a terrible scenario, a deep destabilization... that would perhaps even take us close to civil war," Chavez said Monday in a radio interview.

Luis Vicente Leon, head if the polling firm Datanalisis, said Chavez's remarks were more a political maneuver than a true reflection of the prospect for civil war.

Leon likened the comments to a "poker bluff" to instill fear in independent voters to sway them to his side.

"If Chavez is not in power, there will be chaos. If Chavez is not in power, there will be a civil war. If Chavez is not in power, there will be a coup," Leon told AFP. "The president is putting a price on voting for Capriles: a turbulent country that is at war."

Most polls give Chavez a comfortable lead of 10 to 20 percentage points over Capriles, although this cushion is thinner than it used to be.

But these surveys also indicate many Venezuelans are either undecided, plan to abstain or have decided who to vote for but say they might ultimately change their mind. Collectively these people are known as the "ni-ni's," meaning "neither this nor that."

"Chavez's intention is to keep people from voting for Capriles," a former governor of the populous northern state of Miranda who is supported by a coalition of opposition parties, said political analyst Mariana Bacalao, a professor at Central University.

Leon said the "ni-ni's" could amount to as much as 30 percent of the 19-million-strong electorate and that Chavez is trying to spook people who prefer peace rather than change.

"I do not know if it will work. But there are voters who do not want trouble. If Chavez convinces them that if he loses there will be trouble, it could be an important factor for him," said Leon.

Capriles is countering Chavez's doomsday warning by giving assurances that he would maintain Venezuela's social welfare safety net.

Analyst Carmen Beatriz Fernandez of consulting firm DataStrategia said Chavez is playing the fear card to hold on to his own supporters, a tactic he used in 2010 legislative elections.

"But now, he is doing it with greater vehemence because he knows his lead (in the polls) is not as big as it used to be," Fernandez said.

Chavez is also using the fear factor by identifying Capriles with two parties that support him -- Copei and Democratic Action. The parties traded power back and forth for 40 years until Chavez came to power in 1998, Fernandez said.

A similar ploy has played out in other countries. In Mexico, the conservative National Action Party warned people against bringing the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, back to power for the first time in a decade in July presidential elections.

"And people asked, 'what is wrong with the PRI coming back?'" she asked. PRI candidate Enrique Pena Nieto did, in fact, win.


By Jordi Miro

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