Venezuelans hit the polls today for a closely-watched presidential election pitting longtime socialist leader Hugo Chavez against popular opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, reported The Wall Street Journal.
Some 19 million Venezuelans are eligible to vote today, according to BBC News, and opinion polls indicate a tight race.
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Some voters were woken up by trumpet calls used by Chavez supporters this morning in a boisterous "wake-up" call (polls opened at 6 am), according to BBC Mundo, while Capriles' backers, not to be outdone, reportedly pulled out pots and pans from their kitchens and banged them together in the streets in a "goodbye song" for Chavez.
But Venezuela's notoriously capricious leader is sure about this one. "Lose? We don't lose. It's not in our destiny," he said when asked about the possibility earlier this week, reported WSJ.
The 58-year-old has dismissed health concerns after being diagnosed with cancer last year, and seeks what would be his fourth term in office, said BBC.
He wants to continue his controversial socialist project in the Latin American country, insisting that he needs another term as president in order to complete his "Bolivarian Revolution," reported BBC.
Chavez's socialist experiment has its critics, however, chief among them Chavez's rival Capriles. The young governor has targeted Chavez's economic policy, particularly state's control of the oil industry, accusing the socialist leadership of allowing the Latin American nation to fall behind.
Venezuela has one of the world's largest oil reserves, according to WSJ, but output has not been robust under Chavez. It currently stands at some 3 million barrels a day, a figure that Capriles, who wants to open the industry up to the private sector, says can be much higher.
Opposition parties backing Capriles also accuse Chavez, in power since 1998, of actively suppressing dissent and persecuting activists. Human Rights Watch in July released a major report denouncing what it called the government's growing abuse of power.
Gabriela Martinez, a 33-year-old fashion designer and Capriles supporter told WSJ in Caracas today there are "a lot of people like me that want change," adding that Venezuelans "want people to be motivated to continue investing in the country, to continue working here."
Voting stations are set to close at 6 p.m. local time, but the hours could be extended.