President Hugo Chávez has registered as a candidate for Venezuela’s October election late on Monday—dispelling doubts over whether the cancer-stricken incumbent’s health would prevent his running.
The move follows the registration on Sunday of his youthful rival, Henrique Capriles Radonski, who jogged for most of a 10 km march attended by hundreds of thousands of supporters in a show of vigor that contrasted with Mr. Chávez’s failing health.
“I do not aspire to be the president of a group. I want to be the president of all Venezuelans,” said Mr. Capriles, 39, emphasizing his campaign theme that he wants to unite Venezuela’s polarized society.
“I am not anybody’s enemy. I am the enemy of problems. This is a country that has been divided by its government,” he declared before a gathering of opposition supporters shortly after handing in his credentials.
Mr. Chávez rallied thousands of his supporters on Monday, agencies reported, waving and blowing kisses from atop a truck as he headed for Venezuela’s elections office to formally launch his re-election bid.
Although the official start of the campaign is July 1, the candidates’ registration allows both sides to make a show of force at a moment when polls are publishing radically differing results, with some giving the incumbent a lead of more than 20 points and others putting the rivals in a statistical tie.
While some opposition sources claimed that more than 1m supporters had attended their rally on Sunday, which would make it one of the most impressive since opponents marched on the presidential palace in 2002 and briefly threw the president from power, pundits on state television later doubted that there were more than 20,000 people there.
Mr. Chávez is using his registration to show Venezuelans that he is not as ill as persistent rumors have suggested.
The US journalist Dan Rather recently cited a source close to Mr. Chávez who told him the president had “metastatic rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive cancer that has ‘entered the end stage’.”
On Saturday, however, the former soldier told journalists that tests since undergoing radiotherapy in Cuba – from where he returned on May 11 – came out “absolutely fine”. “I feel very well,” he said, almost a year since announcing on state television that doctors had removed a cancerous tumor from his pelvic region.
If Mr. Chávez’s illness worsens in the run-up to the election, scheduled for October 7, the deadline for substituting candidates is September 27. His picture and name would still appear on the ballot unless changes were made by June 23.
According to the constitution, of those considered most likely to be Mr. Chávez’s successors, only Diosdado Cabello, president of congress, would be able to run in Mr. Chávez’s place. Others, such as Nicolás Maduro, foreign minister, would have had to resign from their posts by Monday in order to run.
Mr. Capriles resigned last week as governor of Miranda state, a post he won after beating Mr. Cabello in a 2008 election.