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Last Updated: Friday, 2 December 2005, 17:05 GMT
Venezuela elections one-horse race
Greg Morsbach
BBC News, Caracas

Chavez supporters demonstrate
Chavez's backers have rallied in support of the poll
On Sunday voters in Venezuela face two real choices: they can either stay at home or they can vote for one of the parliamentary candidates loyal to President Hugo Chavez.

Most of the main opposition parties are boycotting the election as they decided to pull out of the congressional elections earlier this week.

They say the National Electoral Council (CNE) - the state-appointed election authority - is biased towards parties close to Mr Chavez and that the results will therefore be rigged.

It is almost certain that Mr Chavez's candidates are going to achieve a landslide victory - they were heading that way anyway, even before this week's election chaos - but now an 80% stake in the National Assembly looks plausible.

International scrutiny

Ironically, the left-wing government of Mr Chavez is not celebrating the absence of its political rivals from Sunday's polls.

There is no doubt in my mind that the US government is paying the opposition parties to stay away on Sunday
Calixto Ortega
MVR assembly member

What privately really worries hardened "Chavistas" - the name given to Chavez supporters - is that the abstention rate could be so high that the international spotlight could fall on the election process in Venezuela and that the results could be called into question around the world.

"71% of voters will stay away on Sunday according to a poll we commissioned this week," said Eleazar Diaz Rangel, editor-in-chief of Ultimas Noticias newspaper and friend of Mr Chavez. "A 50-60% abstention rate is OK but anything above that is in dangerous territory."

So concerned are senior government figures and members of the parties supporting Mr Chavez that they are holding rallies, marches and televised news conferences to order the people to exercise their democratic right to vote this weekend.

Fast-track changes

Some senior advisers within Mr Chavez's party, the Fifth Republic Movement or MVR, fear that even their own grassroots supporters may be lulled into a false sense of security and simply not bother to vote.

The move by the big opposition parties to pull the plug on the elections has stunned Mr Chavez and his team.

There can only be one explanation in Chavista circles for what is going on: the US administration is hatching yet another plot to bring down Mr Chavez, this time using the opposition party boycott as the tool.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez
Chavez says the US is trying to undermine his administration

"There is no doubt in my mind that the US government is paying the opposition parties to stay away on Sunday," the MVR assembly member, Calixto Ortega, told the BBC. "This is an electoral coup. The opposition failed with the oil strike of 2003 and the military coup of 2002 and now they are trying a third time with this latest stunt."

But does Sunday's vote really matter if we already know who the winners are?

It does is the short answer. For a start because what happens here in Venezuela affects the globe. This country is the world fifth largest petroleum exporter and holds huge oil reserves.

If, as widely expected, Mr Chavez 's supporters win more than two-thirds of seats in the Assembly, he can fast-track changes to Venezuela's constitution.

Members of parliament loyal to Mr Chavez have told the BBC they are in favour of sweeping amendments, including a removal of the cap on the number of times Mr Chavez can run for office. This would mean he could then remain in power until the year 2021. That is the date Mr Chavez intends to retire.

He would need to win a referendum to rubber-stamp the amendments but the main obstacle, the National Assembly, would be removed with almost all of the seats in his pocket.

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