Absent Chavez dominates Venezuelan state elections

Sun Dec 16, 2012 1:12am EST
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By Andrew Cawthorne

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelans vote on Sunday in state elections that will define the future of opposition leader Henrique Capriles and test political forces ahead of a possible new presidential vote if Hugo Chavez is incapacitated by cancer.

The vote for 23 state governorships, of which the opposition controls seven, has been overshadowed by the president's battle to recover from cancer surgery in Cuba.

Yet it will have major implications for the unfolding political drama in the South American OPEC nation with the world's largest oil reserves.

Capriles, 40, must retain the governorship of Miranda if he is to remain the opposition's presidential candidate-in-waiting, while both sides will want a good showing to create momentum in case of a new showdown over who replaces Chavez.

"This is the best indication of how well the opposition will fare in an upcoming contest for the presidency between Henrique Capriles and designated Chavez dauphin Vice President Nicolas Maduro," said Russell Dallen of Caracas-based BBO Financial Services.

Whatever the private machinations going on, in public Maduro and other senior officials are focused only on Chavez's recovery after complications from Tuesday's operation in Havana.

It was a fourth surgery for the socialist leader since he was diagnosed with cancer in the pelvic region in mid-2011.

After re-election in October, Chavez, 58, is due to start a new term on January 10, but has named Maduro as his preferred successor should he be incapacitated.   Continued...

A supporter of the Liberty and Refoundation Party (LIBRE) holds up an image of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as he attends a rally to pray for Chavez's health in Tegucigalpa December 15, 2012. REUTERS Jorge Cabrera