1. The Candidates; Nicolas Maduro and Henrique Capriles: Maduro comes from the Socialist Party in Venezuela, running primarily on a platform of having been Vice-President and close ideological partner of the late anti-capitalist and anti-American leader Hugo Chavez. After Chavez's death in early March, Maduro took over as interim-president. In his time as leader, Maduro has blamed the US for inoculating Chavez with cancer, driven a bus to most of his campaign rallies to remind the Venezuelan people of his working-class roots, and catapulted to an early lead in polls off of the national grievance for their previous leader.
Capriles is Maduro's political opponent, the current governor of the Miranda state and a candidate from the center-right Justice First Party. His platform aims to decentralize the Venezuelan government and to re-open trade ports and diplomatic ties to Western countries that were spoiled by Chavez.
2. What's at stake; Chavismo:
In short, Chavismo. The continuation of Venezuelan oil subsidies and other crucial aid to the economies of left-wing allies around Latin America, namely Cuba; the ever-growing rate of crime in the country; the social progression of minority acceptance: all are strong points of contention between the two candidates.
3. Who is going to win?
Most analysts see Maduro as the favorite. Between the social and economic gains that were made under Chavez's terms in office and the abounding national sympathy following his death, picking Maduro as the winning candidate seems the obvious choice. But some pollsters like Clifford Young think it's still too early to tell. With a recent slowing GDP rate and historically low approval ratings of successors to well-liked previous leaders, Capriles may still have enough support to squeak through the elections on top.
4. Why should the U.S. care?
This April 14 election is of global importance. It is likely to provide an indicator of the balance of forces between attempts to rehabilitate neoliberalism and efforts to advance experiments in 21st century socialism. As the country with the greatest amount of oil reserves in the world, this election and the subsequent economic implications of its outcome could change international trade across the planet, not to mention alter the 14% inflation rate Venezuela currently bolsters — the highest one in all of Latin America.
The presidential election in Venezuela expresses the ideological struggle between two radically different concepts of democracy, liberty, rule of law, and equality. Next week's outcome will be a further test of whether or not socialism and the Bolivarian Revolution can combine with participatory democracy in practice. This Sunday serves as a test for the future of politics.