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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 March, 2004, 17:09 GMT
The big five opposing Chavez

Venezuela's opposition is an unlikely coalition of businessmen, workers' unions, political parties, civil associations and media moguls.

From left: Julio Borges,  Henrique Mendoza and Argentine president Nestor Kirchner during Caracas G15 summit in February
The way forward? Enrique Mendoza with (l) fellow opposition leader Julio Borges and the Argentine president
They claim to have gathered the signatures of more than 20% of the electorate in a drive to call a referendum to shorten the president's term, as set out in the constitution.

If the referendum is called and President Chavez is ejected from Miraflores Palace, who would be capable of uniting this deeply polarised society?

Analysts and public opinion have focused on five potential candidates who have come to be known as the Group of Five (G-5).

Together they form the campaign command for the Democratic Coordinating Board (CD), an opposition umbrella group, but have yet to decide how a challenger for the presidency would be chosen.

Enrique Mendoza::The governor

Twice elected as governor of Miranda, the industrialised state surrounding Caracas, Enrique Mendoza has reinvented himself as a dynamic politician regularly seen out and about talking to the electorate and participating in protest marches.

Enrique Mendoza
Enrique Mendoza already has an electoral base
As well as being credited with Miranda's revival, Mr Mendoza also heads up the CD.

However, despite a large state police force he has been unable to tackle rising crime and insecurity - a key electoral issue throughout the nation.

So far he has yet to issue any public pronouncement regarding his possible candidacy.

Julio Borges:: The TV lawyer

Oxford-educated lawyer Julio Borges - leader of the First Justice party - has gained in popularity through his television programme Justice for All.

The deputy first caught the public's imagination when he led marchers through a crowd of pro-government supporters in central Caracas in November 2002.

The march was delivering signatures to demand a recall referendum but this first initiative, approved by the country's electoral authorities, was later annulled by the Supreme Court.

Mr Borges is seen as a representative of the new leadership in Venezuela. He has called on the CD to display greater clarity and guidance in its defence of the rights of all Venezuelans to seek an electoral solution to the crisis.

Juan Fernandez: The former executive

Head of the civil association Oil People, Juan Fernandez was one of the first dissident executives to be sacked from the state-owned oil company PDVSA when the general strike began late in 2002.

The oil strikers led a 63-day shutdown which sent global oil prices soaring
The oil strikers led a 63-day shutdown which sent global oil prices soaring
Thousands of oil workers lost their jobs when the strike failed.

Mr Fernandez is an economist who moved into politics to represent the PDVSA strikers, who he said were acting "in defence of our liberty and democracy".

President Chavez has just announced a restructuring of PDVSA, quashing rumours that its president, Ali Rodriguez Braque, was planning to resign.

But the opposition accuse the president of running the oil company as if it were his private ranch.

Their concerns were heightened after his recent threat to suspend crude oil shipments to the US over claims that Washington was funding the opposition.

Enrique Salas Romer::The presidential challenger

The leader of the Project Venezuela party, Mr Salas Romer is the only opposition party leader to date who has openly expressed his aspirations to run as a presidential candidate.

This economist and former governor of Carabobo State was beaten by President Chavez in the race for the presidency in 1998.

He has been a tough critic of the strategies pursued by the CD to unseat the Chavez government, favouring a hard-line stance of no negotiations over the recall referendum.

Henry Ramos Allup::The party leader

Democratic Action party leader Henry Ramos Allup does not figure in public opinion polls as a viable presidential candidate.

Nonetheless, his political skills and experience have earned him the respect of his colleagues.

His position as secretary-general of the nation's most important opposition party secured him his place in the G-5.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press and news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.




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