by Liang Xizhi, Xu Ye
CARACAS, March 20 (Xinhua) -- With the approaching of Venezuela's presidential election, the race between Acting President Nicolas Maduro and his main challenger, Henrique Capriles, is heating up all over the South American country.
The latest poll has showed that Maduro enjoyed a comfortable lead over Capriles. However, analysts pointed out that the situation may change at any time as many voters remain undecided three weeks before the election.
MADURO LEADS THE POLL -- FOR NOW
After the death of President Hugo Chavez on March 5, Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE) announced that the presidential poll will be held on April 14.
According to a survey published Monday by local pollster Datanalisis, Maduro would win 49.2 percent of the vote compared with 34.8 percent for Capriles if the election were held now. Another poll released on Tuesday even gave Maduro a bigger lead of 53 percent, while Capriles got 35 percent of support.
Maduro promised that he will carry out the second national socialist plan 2013-2019, a legacy of Chavez.
He also stressed that his government will strengthen healthcare, improve the housing conditions for the middle- and lower-income classes and solve the problems of security and corruption.
In a bid to attract young voters, Maduro on Sunday opened his Twitter account, in which he promised to faithfully follow Chavez's commitment to the Bolivarian revolution and socialism, expressing confidence that he will win the election with over 10 million votes.
The acting president has cast himself as a son to Chavez -- and is emulating many of his mentors' ideas, including broadcasting his own TV show, "Bolivarian Dialogue," which is similar to Chavez's popular program "Hello President."
In his first program broadcast Monday, Maduro said his government will allocate 1 billion U.S. dollars to promote science and technology. He also promised to provide preferential loans to manufacturers.
OPPOSITION ON OFFENSIVE
Capriles remained relatively low-key at the beginning of his election campaign. It took him one day to decide whether to stand for the election on behalf of the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition.
But after a positive decision, Capriles launched a nationwide tour on Saturday to explain his policies to the supporters around the country.
The 40-year-old governor of central Milanda state slammed the government for the country's high crime rates and the shortage of basic items in markets. He enumerated the unfulfilled promises of the Chavez government, criticizing the current government for corruption and inefficiency.
Capriles said his policies would focus on the poor, because the rich do not need government help. He promised to increase the minimum wage by at least 40 percent, and provide food assistance to people in need. He also vowed to improve the judicial system to boost security.
EXCHANGE OF FIRE
As the election approaches, Maduro and Capriles are beginning to trade accusations, sometimes scathing personal attacks.
Capriles has repeatedly accused Maduro of concealing Chavez's health conditions while preparing for his candidacy. He also questioned the real date of Chavez's death. "Death should never be used, particularly not for election campaign aims," said Capriles.
But Maduro said Capriles was playing with fire, offending Chavez's family and risking legal action by criticizing the handling of his illness and death.
Meanwhile, Maria Gabriela Chavez, Chavez's second daughter, also asked the opposition to respect her family's pain and stop playing "dirty." She said Capriles' accusation is "not fair, not human," adding that the Chavez family may have to take legal action against Capriles.
On Tuesday, thousands of university students, mostly supporters of Capriles, marched to the CNE and submitted a petition demanding transparency and fairness in the election.
Maduro responded that Venezuela's electoral system has always been fair and transparent, claiming it is only a trick of the opposition to prepare for the excuses of their failure or create chaos on election day.
Analysts say Maduro clang his campaign too much on people's memory to Chavez, who had effectively improved the lives of poor people in his 14-year rule, but also brought many social and economic problems, such as worsening security, unreasonable economic structure and high inflation.
Meanwhile, Capriles took most of his time enumerating the incompetence of the Chavez era, but did not provide solutions.
Although Maduro currently leads the poll, about 15 percent of the voters are still undecided.
Both Maduro and Capriles will have to lure these voters, who tend to vote for the candidate with measures to solve the current economic and social problems and their votes will probably determine the final results of the election.