Chavez and rival urged to lower tensions ahead of election

Venezuelan President and presidential candidate Hugo Chavez talks during a news conference in Caracas September 5, 2012. Venezuela will hold the presidential elections on October 7. (REUTERS/Jorge Silva)

WASHINGTON: President Hugo Chavez and his rival in next month's election in Venezuela need to provide mutal guarantees to calm deeply polarized voters and avert post-electoral violence, the Carter Center said Friday.

But so far the campaign backing Chavez, who has been in power for 13 years, is failing to do this. "Rather, it is more confrontational," said Jennifer McCoy, Americas director for the human rights foundation created by former US president Jimmy Carter.

Chavez's rival is Henrique Capriles, a former governor backed by a coalition of opposition parties.

Conditions that could lead to violence exist when people feel that if their candidate loses, they might stop receiving social benefits they had been enjoying, be excluded or suffer reprisal from the winning camp, she said.

"Hopefully, the candidates will try to avoid these kind of scenarios," McCoy said at the Wilson Center, a Washington-based think tank.

Capriles is seeking to "reassure those people who have been benefiting from the previous 13 years that these benefits will continue."

The Carter Center has acted an observer in past Venezuelan elections but will not do so this time.

In fact there will be no international observers at the Oct. 7 vote, although many local and highly experienced civic groups will monitor the election, McCoy said.

The Carter Center will do so informally, and is working on a program with Venezuelan news outlets to try to minimize polarization between the pro-Chavez and pro-Capriles camps.

"When it comes to the news media, the polarization that appears in political life is not only reproduced in them, but the media are being dragged in and are a fundamental part of this process of polarization," said Jose Woldenburg, an analyst and former adviser at Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute.

He said that on one hand, the Venezuelan electoral system in and of itself is trustworthy. But the society is deeply polarized and there is no level playing field for the opposition campaign, said Woldenburg, who was part of a delegation that visited Venezuela recently to evaluate the election situation.





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