All eyes on Venezuela opposition leader Henrique Capriles

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    Henrique Capriles

    Venezuela’s opposition leader Henrique Capriles holds a campaign brochure explaining the platform of President Hugo Chavez. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

    CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The date of elections to replace Hugo Chavez is set, and his hand-picked successor will be the official party candidate. But one big question remains: Who will be his opponent?

    Opposition leader Henrique Capriles is set announce his intentions late Sunday in what could be the most important decision of his political life. He faces a stark choice: run in the April 14 vote many believe he is sure to lose amid a frenzy of sympathy and mourning for the dead president, or stay on the sidelines and risk his leadership of the opposition.

    Some say a second defeat for the 40-year-old state governor just six months after he lost last year’s presidential vote to Chavez could derail his political career. If he waits, a Chavista government led by Nicolas Maduro, the acting president, might prove inept and give him a better shot down the road.

    Henrique Capriles announcement

    On a personal Twitter page that bore all the rah-rah adornments of a campaign site, Capriles wrote Saturday afternoon: “I am analyzing the declaration of the (electoral commission setting the date) and in the next hours I will talk to the country about my decision.” A spokesman said Capriles would make an announcement in the early evening.

    Whoever the opposition runs, analysts predict the next five weeks will increase the nasty, heated rhetoric that began even before Chavez’s death Tuesday after a nearly two-year fight with cancer.

    Maduro, who was named Chavez’s vice president after the October election, was sworn in as this oil-rich country’s acting leader Friday night and has made clear he will be the ruling party candidate. He is expected to file election papers on Monday

    Opposition critics have called Maduro’s ascension unconstitutional, noting the charter designates the National Assembly president as acting leader if a president-elect cannot be sworn in.

    Angel Alvarez, a political science professor at the Central University of Venezuela, said Capriles is well aware that “the dice are loaded in favor of the government’s candidate.”

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    Source: E. EDUARDO CASTILLO/ JACK CHANG/ Associated Press

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