Chavez rivals unite behind candidate in Venezuela

August 10, 2006|By CHRIS KRAUL | CHRIS KRAUL,LOS ANGELES TIMES

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Eight candidates opposing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called off a primary election set for Sunday, saying they had unanimously agreed to support Manuel Rosales, governor of Zulia state, who is the front-runner and best-financed among them.

The announcement was considered a bow to the financial and political cost of holding a primary and to the assessment that Rosales stands the best chance against Chavez in the Dec. 3 presidential balloting. Previously, the Zulia state governor and seven other politicians had promised to abide by the primary results.

The presidential campaign begins this week, and Chavez is expected to formally file for re-election Saturday. The former army paratrooper, who took power in 1999 and who has withstood a coup attempt, a general strike and a recall election, is the heavy favorite to win another term.

In a recent poll, 9 percent of likely voters said they would support Rosales, 53, compared with 56 percent for Chavez.

Chavez, a harsh critic of U.S. policy and President Bush, has built a strong following among the poor for his use of the nation's oil wealth to promote health, education and housing programs, and discounted food prices.

`Time is short'

Rosales said in television and radio interviews yesterday that he faces an uphill battle and that "time is short." But in an acceptance speech before supporters, he hammered at what some analysts say are Chavez's vulnerabilities: his huge foreign aid programs, the government-approved takeovers of land and buildings, and the perception that crime is on the increase.

"The government wants to be the owner of all private property," Rosales said. "We will distribute land to the peasants, but we will buy it in such a way as to respect the principle of private property, just as we will respect those of human rights and social justice."

There was no official reaction early yesterday from Chavez or his staff about the unified support for Rosales.

In a ruling this week that brought relief to the governor's supporters, the National Election Council said Rosales could run for president without having to resign his governorship, as some had said the law required. The council refused to set campaign spending limits, a move likely to give Chavez an advantage.

Rosales is a father of eight whose education extended through high school. He is a lifelong politician who has solid support in Zulia, a prosperous oil- and cattle-producing state. His fiery anti-Chavez oratory and his visibility and financial resources as governor propelled him to the top of the list of challengers.

Running mate

The challenger second to Rosales in the polls, attorney and talk show host Julio Borges, said through a spokeswoman yesterday that he will be Rosales' vice presidential running mate.

"Just as the rest of the candidates do, Julio supports 100 percent the naming of Rosales," the Borges spokeswoman said.

Another well-known Chavez challenger, Teodoro Petkoff, a former guerrilla and planning minister who is now editor of the newspaper Tal Cual, withdrew from the race last week.

Caracas-based analyst and pollster Luis Vicente Leon said it makes sense for the opposition to save its money and avoid any primary-induced divisiveness before the general election, when it will need a united front if a Chavez opponent is to have a chance.

Chris Kraul writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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