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Running against Hugo Chavez’ ghost

April 4th, 2013
04:55 PM ET

By Samuel Burke, CNN

Voters in Venezuela go to the polls this weekend to elect a new president, with many asking the question: will the ghost of Hugo Chavez decide the election?

Nicolas Maduro – Chavez's vice president and hand-picked successor – brands himself as an extension of the late president, vowing to carry out the socialist revolution that Chavez began.

At campaign rallies, pictures of Chavez are as prominent as photos of Maduro himself. This sets up a tough battle for the opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski.

The young state governor is hoping to undo history; he lost to Chavez in the presidential election in October of last year. The margin was about 10 percentage points, though that was a much smaller difference than previous Chavez opponents.

While Capriles has rallied hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic supporters in this race, he is still down by ten points in the polls.

Leopoldo Lopez is a politician who knows what it's like to take on the legacy of Hugo Chavez, whether alive or merely as a legacy. He is one of the most influential opposition leaders in Venezuela and a key member of Capriles' campaign team.

In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday, Lopez likened the current campaign to David versus Goliath.

“To put in real terms: this is the people against the state. The people against the entire power of the state: ‘PDVSA’ the national oil industry, all of the powers of the state put on one side of the [government’s] candidacy, and the people on the other side.”

Many voters are clearly on a wave of sympathy for the late President Chavez.

Capriles wants to run against Maduro, but Maduro wants to run with Chavez.

“It’s an extraordinary election,” Lopez admitted. But to get out of Chavez’ shadow, he believes his candidate’s campaign focus on the economy could lead him to victory.

“Maduro is not Chavez, and 2012 is not 2013,” Lopez said. “Venezuela is a different country and Venezuela is now in an economic crisis, which is a consequence of what the government did last year.”

The election takes place this Sunday.

Filed under:  Latest Episode • Venezuela
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