Venezuelans head to polls to choose Chávez successor

The day in Caracas started very early, with sound trucks playing bugle calls to urge voters to the polls. At two polling stations, voters offered different views of the direction Venezuela should head in. 

Ariana Cubillos/AP
Venezuelan acting president Nicolas Maduro waves to crowds after leaving a polling station in Caracas.

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, Caraqueños were awakened by the sound of fireworks and blaring bugles, prompting voters to get to the polls and pick their successor to the late President Hugo Chávez.

In today's election, Venezuelan voters are expected to elect interim president Nicolás Maduro over challenger Henrique Capriles, governor of the state of Miranda. The brief presidential campaign and vote comes just six months after Mr. Chávez was returned to power for a fourth term by a double-digit margin and record voter turnout.

By dawn, in similar fashion to last October's election, lines featuring many voters clad in red to symbolize Chávez's Bolivarian revolution movement stretched across the working-class neighborhood of Catia, in western Caracas. The area is considered a stronghold of the late leader and to be heavily leaning toward Mr. Maduro.

At 5 a.m., Meryuette Silva, a maintenance worker, was waiting in front of the voting center to cast her ballot. "El Comandate gave very clear instructions," she said, confident that voters would carry Maduro, Chávez's anointed successor, to victory.

(Chávez had a strong following among women. Read why here.)

Posters and paintings featuring the fallen president are still ubiquitous in the neighborhood. Many people there, like Ms. Silva, say they are voting to  forge ahead with Chávez's self-styled socialist policies.

Wilson Gonzalez, a construction worker also waiting in line, joked that "everything seems the same." Mr. Gonzalez receives many of the benefits of the "Bolivarian Revolution," from free housing to education subsidies for his family.

"Actions are worth more than words," he said, certain of a Maduro victory. Gonzalez was concerned that a Capriles win would mean cuts to the prized social programs.

The large crowds are missing

But despite the strange sense of déjà vu and the morning's harsh reveille-like reminder, the clamoring crowds of last year's election were nowhere to be seen today.

Across town, in Chacao, an affluent suburb, despite daunting poll numbers suggesting as much as a double-digit lead for Maduro, Capriles' supporters were confident they'd turn the tide.

"It's the simple fact that it's not Chávez this time," said Alirio Lugo, a young chef. "He was a leader, he knew how to move people."

His absence, Mr. Lugo said, "improves the country's chances for change."

Many at the Chacao voting center said they were tired of the stagnant economy and widespread crime under Chávez – two issues that Mr. Capriles' campaign has focused on intently in arguing for their candidate.

Oswaldo Garcia, a retiree, was unconcerned by poll numbers. "The best survey," he said, "is what people are saying in the streets."

"People are sick, this violence is affecting everyone," said Garcia, adding that his neighbor was killed the night before in a burglary.

For Capriles and his supporters, the hope is for a heavy late-afternoon voter turnout to pave his way to victory.

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