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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 August 2006, 03:57 GMT 04:57 UK
Venezuela set for poll campaign
By Greg Morsbach
BBC News, Caracas

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Vietnam
Mr Chavez is seeking a historic third term in office
Campaigning officially begins on Tuesday in Venezuela, ahead of a presidential election due to take place in December.

Incumbent President Hugo Chavez - who is on a two-week world tour - is set to run for a third term in office.

Opinion polls put support for Mr Chavez at between 50% and 60%, with most of his rivals hovering at around 5%.

This will be the first time in Venezuela's history that a president is seeking a third consecutive term.

President Chavez is so confident of victory in December's elections that he decided to spend two weeks on a world tour.

Venezuela's opposition is deeply divided and has so far failed to impress with a lack of new proposals.

But the opposition is hoping to get its act together with the help of primary elections in just under two weeks from now.

Alternatives

However, a handful of candidates is refusing to take part in the primaries.

Presidential candidate Benjamin Rausseo
Mr Rausseo could pose a real challenge

One of them, a stand-up comedian and self-made millionaire from humble beginnings, is seen by some as the only real challenger to President Chavez.

Benjamin Rausseo - who goes by the stage name "The Count of Guacharo" - is trying to capture protest votes from Venezuelans disaffected by Mr Chavez and traditional opposition parties.

Although some people dismiss him as an outsider, he may end up as the most popular alternative to Mr Chavez.

A potential flash point for this campaign is the air time allotted to the candidates.

President Chavez is allowed to continue his weekly broadcast, Hello Mr President, which can last up to five hours.

The opposition tried, and failed, to persuade the electoral authorities to take the programme off the air during the campaign.


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