Experts Predict Who Will Win the Venezuelan Election

PHOTO: Capriles

Presidential contests in Venezuela have recently lacked suspense. In three elections held since 1998, President Hugo Chávez has easily defeated his opponents, winning by at least 14 percent and by as much as 26 percent of the vote.

But this time around it's a tight race, with some surveys saying that Chávez could lose to Henrique Capriles, the centrist opposition candidate, who summons huge crowds wherever he goes.

A Capriles victory could radically change how the Venezuelan economy is run. It would also have significant repercussions on radical left-wing governments in Latin America that currently receive large amounts of aid from Venezuela.

On the eve of the elections, we spoke to a blogger, a pollster, a political analyst and an academic and asked them for their take on Sunday's vote. Can Capriles pull off a victory, we asked, and if he does, will Chávez accept defeat?

Here's what they had to say:

The Blogger

Francisco Toro runs Caracas Chronicles, a popular blog on all things related to Venezuelan politics. "Chávez can certainly lose," Toro said. "The panorama presented to us by polls is very turbulent right now."

During the last two weeks of September, for example, a survey by Consultores 21 gave Capriles a 5 percent lead, while another poll by Datanalisis says that Chávez will win by 10 percent of the vote. Many surveys showed large numbers of voters who were undecided, or did not want to tell researchers who they would support on Sunday.

"It's a fifty-fifty election," Toro said. "Both sides are highly motivated and mobilized, and both sides think they can win."

Toro believes there are many scenarios that could happen on election day, including the possibility that the government could attempt to mess with the vote tally. But he also pointed out that Venezuela's electoral system leaves a clear paper trail of votes, because every vote that is registered by Venezuela's electronic voting system is also printed and placed in ballot boxes.

"If the government decides to do some sort of power grab [by cheating in the election], it will be possible to verify votes. That would force Chávez to take very drastic actions like shutting down media and repressing protesters," Toro said.

"The opposition also has a contingency plan that has involved securing support from key people in the military, in order to try to dissuade the government from committing fraud," Toro said.

The Pollster

Erick Ekvall was born in the United States. But he moved to Venezuela to work on a presidential campaign in 1982, and has lived in the tropical country ever since.

This pollster and political strategist says that a Capriles victory "would be a miracle." But it's not because he thinks that Capriles lacks support. Ekvall believes there is a real possibility of fraud on Sunday, even though respected democracy groups like the Carter Center have praised Venezuela's voting system.

"The Venezuelan electoral system has two main weaknesses," Ekvall said, explaining that one of them is the national voters' registry.

"In Venezuela the voter roll had always been consistent with population growth. But over the past 10 years it's grown by 58 percent, while the population has only grown by 14 percent. This causes many people, including myself, to believe that we have 2 to 3 million phantom voters in the rolls," Ekvall said.

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