Venezuela elections: candidates vie for re-election amid divisions and protests

The incumbent president is running for a second term after a controversial vote in May. During his first term as president, the son of a peasant family rose to power thanks to a wave of oil-driven enthusiasm that had swept the country, developing with power and wealth into a country that overran much of central and southern Venezuela and then fell back to poverty and state run. (He was first elected president in April 2013, after the death of his predecessor Hugo Chávez, who had handpicked Maduro as his heir) Maduro led a series of guerrilla attacks against Chávez and even fought him.

With the end of the Chávez era, things had changed in the country, which struggled to maintain its oil wealth as production dropped precipitously.

Maduro lost some hope of continued support, but in 2013 he promised to do things differently. He rolled back a ban on foreign travel and put his wife, Cilia Flores, in charge of the interior and interior security. He returned to Chávez’s single-party government-by-state, overseeing moves to limit the role of the opposition in election proceedings and judicial oversight of political activity. Both moves helped create an atmosphere of intimidation.

While Maduro has pledged to create jobs and aid the poor, critics say he has been part of a neo-Marxist Cuban-style response to his country’s problems, where state-imposed authoritarian measures are aimed at maintaining the status quo and protecting power. (His election win ensured that Chávez’s younger brother Jorge, a leading Chavista, became president of the National Assembly.)

Since Maduro took power, violence and political unrest have put at risk $290bn in oil revenue, according to the International Monetary Fund, putting at risk investments, food imports and social programmes. Hundreds of Venezuelan diplomats have been expelled. And authorities have imprisoned opponents, including Antonio Ledezma, a former Caracas mayor. Ledezma is serving an 11-year jail sentence.

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