Anointed heir of Hugo Chavez faces competition for the poisoned chalice

Interim President Nicolas Maduro faces a battle to succeed El Comandante

After 14 years of being dominated by Hugo Chavez’s bombastic and idiosyncratic personality, Venezuela now faces huge political uncertainty.

In the short-term, presidential elections are likely to be called for April, pitting Vice President Nicolas Maduro against the opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, the youthful state governor who lost last to the late Mr Chavez in elections last October.

The Venezuelan constitution stipulates that new elections must be held within 30 days of the president dying. Mr Maduro, 50, would enter that race with a series of strategic advantages, including the backing of the state media empire built up by Mr Chavez – there is now just one private TV station critical of “Chavismo” left in Venezuela – and the potential for a huge outpouring of public grief sweeping him to power.

Venezuela’s working classes also have every incentive to vote for a continuation of the “Bolivarian” socialist revolution that has seen lavish – and, critics say, unsustainable – spending of the country’s petrodollars on social programmes for the poor.

Yet, the Vice President may not have it all his own way. Even his most ardent supporters would concede that the former bus driver and union leader lacks Mr Chavez’s panache and common touch. And Mr Capriles, a basketball-playing, 40-year-old singleton, has proven an effective campaigner with the stamina necessary to hit the stump across the country, the only way for him to outflank the government’s control of TV coverage.

While Mr Chavez and his supporters had routinely branded Mr Capriles an “oligarch” and even a “fascist”, the opposition leader portrays himself as a pragmatic centrist with a social conscience, who, if elected, would halt the huge give-aways of Venezuela’s oil wealth to leftist allies such as Cuba and Bolivia and realign Caracas with “democracies” rather than the likes of Iran and Syria.

There are several possible alternative scenarios, should in-fighting break out either in the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) or the opposition.

The assembly leader Diosdado Cabello, an abrasive Chavista hard-liner, might yet decide to challenge Mr Maduro for the PSUV candidacy.

According to the Venezuelan constitution it is the assembly leader who stands in for the president if he is incapacitated before his inauguration but the vice president who does so afterwards. At the moment, Mr Maduro has taken the reins despite the fact that Mr Chavez missed his swearing in ceremony on 10 January due to ill-health.

Meanwhile, Mr Capriles still has formally to be chosen as the united opposition candidate, although it seems unlikely he will be cast aside after his performance last October, the best ever by an opposition politician against Mr Chavez.

Yet the biggest question may be: why anyone would want to succeed “el Comandante”?

In the run-up to October’s elections, Mr Chavez stoked up the economy. Inflation is now among the highest in the world and last month Mr Maduro was forced to devalue the bolivar for the fifth time since it was fixed in 2002, from 4.3 to 6.3 to the dollar. Yet with the black market rate still near 20 bolivars, many economists fear more turmoil.

Chavez’s successor: The contenders

Nicolas Maduro

When President Chavez named his 50-year-old Vice-President and Foreign Minister as his preferred successor last year, he described the former bus driver as “a complete revolutionary, a man of great experience despite his youth, with great dedication and capacity for work, for leading, for handling the most difficult situations”.

Mr Maduro has quietly managed to hold the reigns since December, and with the bombastic Mr Chavez out of the public eye, the Chavez camp has helped carve out his image as Venezuela’s next leader.

Henrique Capriles

A lawyer by training, the energetic 40-year-old is the most likely choice to challenge Mr Maduro in a snap election, in view of his performance against Mr Chavez in October’s presidential poll.

As the energetic governor of the state of Miranda, Mr Capriles campaigned across the country, building support from the grassroots upwards in the face of Mr Chavez’s dominance of state media. If a vote did take place, it is thought Mr Capriles could improve on the 44 per cent of votes he won in October, against Mr Chavez’s 55 per cent.

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Central London - £45,000-£55,000 + bonus

£45000 - £55000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: The focus of this is to deve...

Application Support - Enterprise Java, SQL, Oracle, SQL Server

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A well-established financial soft...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape