Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez on Monday formally registered himself as a candidate for the October presidential elections, seeking a consecutive third term in office in the Latin American nation.
Before filing his nomination papers at the electoral office in capital Caracas, Chavez led what was described as the biggest rally of his supporters since he was diagnosed with cancer just over a year ago. In an effort to show that he was still in good health, Chavez sang and danced in front of the crowd and declared that he was fit enough to stand in the elections and win. He acknowledged that it had been a "difficult year" because of the cancer treatment and thanked god "for this life."
"We have been the victims of a psychological war, with people announcing my death several times when I was in Cuba," Chavez told his supporters after filing his papers at the electoral office.
Chavez has been keeping a low profile since his return from Cuba on May 12 after undergoing radiotherapy for a second tumor in his pelvic region. Last week, the incumbent insisted that he was in good health and expressed confidence of winning the forthcoming elections despite his health problems.
Chavez has been shuttling between Venezuela and Cuba ever since he underwent an initial surgery in Cuba on June 20, 2011 to remove a cancerous tumor in his pelvic area and spent nearly a month there recuperating. He has since undergone four rounds of chemotherapy, three of which were in Cuba.
Further, Chavez underwent a surgery at Havana's Cimeq Hospital in February to remove a lesion found in the same place where the tumor was extracted almost a year ago. Although he indicated earlier that the new growth might be malignant, he now claims to be in good heath and fit to run for a third six-year term.
Chavez has been ruling Venezuela since 1999 by winning repeated elections. He has considerable support in his home country, mainly due to the massive government spending on social programs targeting the poor. Nevertheless, the country's Opposition parties had made major inroads into the ruling party's strongholds in last year's parliamentary elections, denying it a crucial two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.
A day earlier, Opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski registered himself as a candidate for the presidential elections, thereby setting the scene for a showdown with Chavez. Earlier, a coalition of 30 Opposition parties had chosen 39-year-old Capriles, a former Governor of Miranda state, as their candidate for the elections in the Latin American nation's first ever Opposition primary held in February.
In an effort to show his sound health when compared to cancer-hit Chavez, Capriles filed his nomination at the headquarters of the National Elections Council on Sunday after he and hundreds of his supporters marched and jogged some ten kilometers at a park in capital Caracas.
Addressing his followers before filing the documents, Capriles, pledged to fight crime and root out corruption from the oil-rich country. Incidentally, Venezuela presently has one of the highest crime rates in the world. The country has been witnessing a sharp increase in violent crimes, kidnappings and murders in recent years.
Capriles, who stepped down as Miranda Governor last week to run for the presidency, also criticized Chavez's socialist policies and said he would follow the lead of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva by offering a balance of social programs and pro-business policies if elected to office.
Although the Opposition primary in February brightened chances of upsetting Chavez at the polls by selecting a single candidate endorsed by all Opposition parties, he is still considered to be the favorite. Chavez has said that he will accept the outcome of the October elections even if he were to be defeated.
by RTT Staff Writer
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