Venezuelans transfixed by close race

Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez waves to supporters during a campaign rally in Guarenas on September 29. (AP)

Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez waves to supporters during a campaign rally in Guarenas on September 29. (AP)

With opinion polls inconclusive, both men are wooing undecided voters in what looks likely to be the closest presidential election of the charismatic socialist leader's 14-year rule.

Despite two bouts of cancer since mid-2011, Chávez (58) has declared himself completely cured and is trying to recapture some of his old panache and energy on the campaign trail to win a new six-year term on October 7 in the South American Opec member.

On Saturday, he inaugurated a monorail, then inspected extensions to the subway system and a cable car in poor areas of Caracas typical of his power-base.

The projects cost a combined $2.5-billion.

"When a government like ours invests hundreds of millions of dollars, we are not thinking about making money. That's the difference with capitalism," Chávez said in Petare, one of the largest slums in Latin America.

"The loser will have to go to the moon and see if he can govern a rock there because here the bourgeoisie are never coming back," Chávez quipped of Capriles, whom he portrays as representing a heartless, right-wing elite.

Later, in Guarenas town outside Caracas, the president drove through crowds in an open vehicle dubbed by some the "Chávez-mobile." He sang, danced and gave an exuberant speech in a show of energy few would have expected just months ago when he was publicly praying to be saved from cancer.

Capriles, a 40-year-old state governor who has a centrist political vision and sees Brazil's mix of free-market economics and strong welfare polices as his model, has been crisscrossing Venezuela all year in an exhausting campaign.

Post-vote trouble?

Addressing thousands in Falcon state, in west Venezuela, Capriles accused Chávez of defrauding the population with false promises while squandering the nation's oil revenues on political allies abroad.

"The government prefers to build a refinery in Nicaragua, or send oil and worry about power cuts in Cuba, but it doesn't care about blackouts here in Falcon," he said.

"Why does that happen? The rulers of today are only interested in themselves, and their pockets. I ask the people of Falcon, 'What has the revolution done in this state?'" added Capriles, to cries of "Nothing" from his supporters.

In a campaign tactic he has been using in each state he visits, the opposition leader read a list of what he said were unfulfilled government infrastructure promises for Falcon.

Of the half-dozen or so best-known pollsters in Venezuela, a majority put Chávez ahead, but they also show Capriles creeping up in recent weeks, and two put him just ahead.

Venezuelans are transfixed by the race, but also nervous of possible violence if the result is close and disputed.

Foreign investors hope the more business-friendly Capriles will take over and end a nationalisation drive and other radical policies that have polarised Venezuela like never before and made Chávez one of the world's most controversial leaders.

Venezuela's widely traded debt has risen as Capriles' poll numbers inched up.
The price of its popular Global 2027 bond climbed by more than 3.5% in the past week.

Chávez promises to "deepen" socialism if he wins. That will likely mean continued spending on his popular welfare "missions," new confrontations with the private sector, and more support for his leftist allies in the region.

Opposition leaders are angry at Chávez's use of state resources in his campaign, but say the electronic-based vote system should be hard to rig on voting day, since they will have their own observers at most voting booths. - Reuters

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