Venezuela opposition leader rebuffs Chavez’s challenge to pursue referendum against president

By Fabiola Sanchez, AP
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Venezuela opposition: No plans for recall vote

CARACAS, Venezuela — A prominent opposition leader ruled out seeking a referendum to try to unseat Hugo Chavez, advising the president Tuesday to focus instead on governing the country until he is up for re-election in 2012.

Henrique Capriles dismissed Chavez’s challenge for a recall vote following congressional elections in which opposition candidates made significant gains.

“We are not going to waste time or go around gathering signatures or go around doing what the president wants us to do,” Capriles said at a news conference alongside some of the victorious opposition candidates.

On Monday, Chavez dared the opposition to mount a recall vote if they believe their support to be strong enough. The president defeated one recall attempt in 2004.

But Capriles said that after the opposition’s strong showing in the National Assembly vote Sunday, Chavez should instead “dedicate himself to governing.”

When asked if he plans to run for president in 2012, Capriles said: “I’m not a candidate nor a pre-candidate.”

Capriles is governor of Miranda state, which includes part of Caracas, and is one of the most popular leaders in the opposition. He said he thinks the opposition should hold a primary to choose a single candidate to face Chavez in 2012.

Capriles called the legislative elections a clear victory for the opposition, noting that while the government held on to 97 of the 165 seats, the opposition was on par with Chavez’s candidates in the overall popular vote.

Chavez said his candidates won about 5.4 million votes, against about 5.3 million for opposition candidates. Electoral officials have not released total counts of the popular vote obtained by each camp.

Capriles also criticized new electoral rules that gave Chavez allies a wide margin in the National Assembly even though the popular vote was so tight. An electoral law passed by the Chavista-controlled Assembly redrew some districts and gave heavier representation to rural areas where the president is most popular.

“It doesn’t reflect the proportionality of the vote,” Capriles said.

Chavez angrily berated a journalist Monday when she asked him about the electoral changes and the popular vote.

“By the system, it isn’t directly proportional,” Chavez said, noting that similar rules yield similar results in many countries.

Chavez also accused the opposition of putting a dishonest spin on the outcome. He called it a victory for his party and said the results in legislative district elections do not necessarily mirror what would happen in a presidential election.

Nevertheless, Capriles advised Chavez to realize that he faces a renewed and strengthening opposition.

“A new Venezuela is being built,” Capriles said.

Chavez remains popular after nearly 12 years in office but has seen his popularity slide below 50 percent in recent polls as Venezuelans increasingly express disenchantment with problems including violent crime, a lackluster economy and 30 percent inflation.

Chavez has said he is already warming up for the presidential vote in two years. In 2009, he won a referendum eliminating term limits.

Associated Press Writer Ian James contributed to this report.

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