Venezuela's Capriles wins primary, seeks to beat Chavez

Mon Feb 13, 2012 1:14am EST
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By Brian Ellsworth

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles easily won a primary election on Sunday to become the unity candidate against President Hugo Chavez, vowing to end 13 years of socialist rule that he said has left the OPEC nation in crisis.

Capriles' candidacy had a firm start as unexpectedly high participation of nearly 3 million people in the primary vote signaled the opposition can mobilize supporters ahead of the October 7 presidential election.

The 39-year-old, center-left state governor's bid was further bolstered by a show of unity among other candidates from the opposition, which for years suffered from internal disputes that ultimately benefited Chavez.

Yet with Chavez riding high in polls, still popular among the poor and spending massively on welfare projects, Capriles will need to go beyond the vague promises and feel-good factor of his primary campaign if he is to unseat the president.

"This is about the unity of all Venezuelans that want progress," Capriles told thousands of cheering supporters gathered outside his campaign headquarters on Sunday night.

"We have a country in crisis and a government dedicated only to partisan politics."

His strong showing, winning 62 percent of the primary vote, will likely lift Venezuelan bonds, which react well to any news suggesting a change from Chavez's state-centered economic model.

"This result is still market positive as the opposition showed mobilization capacity and empowered the candidate," wrote Goldman Sachs analyst Alberto Ramos.   Continued...

<p>Opposition presidential candidate and Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles smiles as he arrives to cast his vote at a polling station in Caracas February 12, 2012. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia</p>