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Venezuela begins presidential election

10-07-2012 22:47 BJT

CARACAS, Oct. 7 (Xinhua) -- Venezuela set in motion its latest presidential election on Sunday morning to determine who will run the South American country from 2013 to 2019.

Polling stations opened at 6:00 a.m. local time (1030 GMT) for the country's 19 million registered voters, and are scheduled to close at 6 p.m. (2230 GMT).

But the National Electoral Council (CNE) has said voters already in the queue by 6:00 p.m. would be allowed to vote.

Six candidates are contending the post, but the election is widely seen as a two-man competition between incumbent President Hugo Chavez and Henrique Capriles, the candidate of the opposition Coalition for Democratic Unity.

The winner of the first-past-the-post, single-round race will take office in January 2013.

Chavez, now 58 and in his almost 14th year in power, maintained a steady 10-point lead in opinion polls over eight months in the campaign.

The CNE has deployed 39,322 ballot boxes to about 13,810 polling stations. Some 99,000 Venezuelans overseas are also entitled to vote in embassies and consulates worldwide.

Some 139,000 soldiers and reservists have been deployed nationwide to protect voters and electoral officials.

The CNE has also affirmed that the election would be transparent under the monitoring of national and international observers, including a mission from the Union of South American Nations (Unasur).

The day began with a 3:00 a.m. reveille trumpet call, played on publica address systems across the capital, designed to wake up electoral officials, so they would be at their posts in time.

Chavez's party is focused on reducing inequality by increased nationalization and social programs for the poor. Capriles' coalition has promised to maintain the program but improve its efficiency. The coalition has also vowed to review Venezuela's foreign policy and distance the country from Russia, Cuba and Iran.

Across the nation, some 187,000 electoral officials were selected randomly from the voter roll.

In the evening, the CNE will begin to publish results when, in its words "a clear trend has emerged."

The government has gone to great lengths to ensure the transparency of the election, and to publicize it. On Saturday night, Chavez held a press conference with Unasur observers.

At the conference, Carlos Alvarez, leader of the Unasur mission, said, "We have received a unanimous impression of objectivity and efficiency in Venezuelan electoral procedures."

Venezuela's voting is completely automated and machines that serve around 40 percent of voters now combine electronic voting with biometric data.

State-run Telesur showed scenes of voters queuing outside polling stations as early as 5:00 a.m. local time. In the capital, the metro will be free of charge all day to ensure that voters reach the polls without problems.

Editor:Bai Yang |Source: Xinhua

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