Incumbent Hugo Chavez is facing down rival Henrique Capriles in the South American country’s elections after 14 years in power. Thousands gathered to hear the candidates’ closing speeches as they vied to drum up support before ballots open.
Chavez is currently leading in the popularity polls, pitting Capriles to the post by a narrow margin that fluctuates between 2 and 20 points.
Analysts say that the vote is likely to be the tightest race in over a decade with 19 million people registered for the elections, 96.6% of the voting population.
Chavez’s supporters flooded Caracas’ Bolivar Avenue to show solidarity for the charismatic leader, while rival Capriles drew almost a million followers to a rally in the Venezuelan capital.
In his closing speech Chavez focused on the social reforms that have won him the popularity of the lower classes in Venezuela. He pledged to continue the fight against poverty and inequality in the Latin American state.
"In all these years, we managed to save the country and have built the foundations for the future. In six years' time, we will be the first on health and education. In 10 years, there will be no more homeless in Venezuela," Mr Chavez pledged.
Capriles, a 40-year-old lawyer, attacked the government’s policy on the economy and promised to focus on education and job creation should he be elected.
“14 years is enough and 20 is too much,” he said in an address to his supporters, stressing that the Chavist government had run out of steam.
Hugo Chavez has received a lot of negative coverage by western media, many regarding him as a reactionary seeking to cling to power for another presidential term. His controversial foreign policies have provoked the anger of the US on more the one occasion.
Chavez has condemned the support of the opposition in Syria and advocates Iran’s right to enrich uranium. In addition, he has been a key figure in the movement for Latin American integration and the exclusion of the US regarding internal policies.
In contrast, Capriles has resolved to radically change Venezuelan foreign policy upon election, heralding a possible strengthening of ties with the US.
Chavez’s health has also been a bone of contention in the elections. The Venezuelan president had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor less than six months ago, but has reassured supporters he is fit to serve another term in power.
Venezuelans will make their way to the ballots on Sunday to pick the victor in the presidential battle.
James Petras, professor emeritus of Sociology at Brighampton University told RT that given Chavez’s anti-US policies Washington would prefer Capriles as the “more malleable client.”
“Along the line, both domestically and foreign policy-wise, President Chavez has been defining an alternative route for Latin America and has played a major role in lessening the US influence in the region,” said Petras. He added that this effectively meant the “exclusion of the United States.”
Citing Chavez’s promotion of the “redistribution of politics and the nationalizing of several important oil, petroleum and gas companies,” Petras said that the US and EU would like to “get rid of Chavez” because on many issues he is “on the other side of the political map.”