Hugo Chavez loyalists blew bugles in a wake up call for voters on Sunday as the Venezuelan leader faced the biggest electoral challenge yet to his socialist rule from a young rival tapping into discontent over crime and cronyism.
Henrique Capriles, a centrist state governor, edged toward the still-popular Chavez in final polls thanks to a vigorous campaign that united the opposition and made him its best chance of ending the president’s 14-year tenure.
Chavez has used record oil revenue to support ideological allies around the world while preaching a fiercely anti-American line, so the election is being watched eagerly from the United States to Belarus and Iran.
Queues formed at some polling centers long before they opened, and despite a few delays voting was going smoothly.
“The battle has started!” the flamboyant former soldier wrote in an early morning rallying cry on Twitter. “Today we will write another chapter in history.”