Venezuelans line up outside a voting station during the presidential election in Caracas October 7, 2012. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez faces the toughest election of his 14-year rule on Sunday in a vote pitting his charisma and oil-financed largesse against fresh-faced challenger Henrique Capriles' promise of jobs, safer streets and an end to cronyism. (Photo : REUTERS/Gil Montano)
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez faces opposition challenger Henrique Capriles on Sunday in what looks like the former soldier's toughest election in 14 years of socialist rule.
The following are key facts about Chavez and Capriles, and their policy plans:
FACTS ABOUT CHAVEZ
* Born to a poor family in the Venezuelan plains in 1954, Chavez aspired to be a painter and then a professional baseball player. He often explains politics in baseball metaphors.
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* A former lieutenant colonel, Chavez spent much of his later military career conspiring to overthrow the traditional political order. He led a 1992 coup that failed but made his reputation and propelled him toward the presidency.
* Chavez won a 1998 presidential election and took office in 1999. Opposition politicians and dissident troops led a coup against him in 2002, but supporters and loyal soldiers swept him back to power in less than two days.
* He has at various points threatened to shut off oil supplies to the United States, including when he accused then-U.S. President George W. Bush of backing the short-lived 2002 coup attempt, but has always backed off. The United States remains Venezuela's major export market.
* He enjoys wide backing among Venezuela's poor thanks to massive social spending to expand health and education programs, financed by income from oil exports. Opponents call him an old-style Latin American "caudillo," or dictator, repressing critics, squandering the nation's oil wealth and ruining its economy.
* In mid-2011, Chavez announced he was being treated for cancer. He has had three operations in Cuba that removed two malignant tumors but declared himself completely cured in July. Doctors say it is impossible to rule out another recurrence.
* Chavez has already nationalized large areas of the economy and is expected to continue doing so if he wins a third term. After numerous expropriations in areas including oil, electricity and telecommunications, he is seen moving into mostly untouched industries such as pharmaceuticals and private clinics. Many also expect him to increase regulation of private banks.
* Heavy pre-election spending and a sharp rise in borrowing in 2011 have led most economists to predict Venezuela will devalue the bolivar currency in 2013. That will likely spur inflation and generate more conflict with businesses over price and currency controls created nearly a decade ago. At the same time, the government is planning to step up the enforcement of price caps on consumer goods and extend them to more products.
* The government's social spending agenda will focus on building more homes after handing over tens of thousands of apartments. Chavez is also seen expanding a worker training and job placement program he created last year, which will help address his supporters' complaints of chronic unemployment.
* Chavez will be under heavy pressure to reduce crime, which Venezuelans routinely identify as their top concern. He has promised to expand the reach of an incipient national police force and to overhaul chaotic jails. He has repeatedly launched security plans that have fizzled out with little noticeable effect.
FACTS ABOUT CAPRILES
* Capriles, 40, is governor of Venezuela's second-most populous state, Miranda, which includes parts of Caracas. The state ranges from the capital's largest shantytown, Petare, to fishing villages and beaches on the Caribbean coast.
* A law graduate, Capriles became Venezuela's youngest legislator at the age of 26, then won the mayorship of a Caracas municipality before beating a die-hard Chavez loyalist, Diosdado Cabello, to win the Miranda governor's office in 2008.
* His maternal grandparents, the Radonskis, left Poland to flee anti-Semitism, arriving in Venezuela with just a suitcase stuffed with clothes. Two great-grandparents died in the Treblinka concentration camp. "Imagine that some people in the Chavez government are so ignorant they actually call me a Nazi," he says.
* His grandparents set up a lucrative cinema business in Venezuela and, through them, Capriles once met legendary Mexican comedian Mario Moreno - best known as "Cantinflas."
* A keen basketball player and sports lover, Capriles says he relaxes by finding some friends for a game or going for a quiet run after dark. He downs Red Bulls to keep his energy up.
* Like Chavez, Capriles has been jailed. He was imprisoned for four months on charges of fomenting a protest at the Cuban Embassy in 2002, although he says he was mediating. He was acquitted of the charges at trial.
* If elected, Capriles says he wants to copy Brazil's "modern left" model of economic and social policies. On the campaign trail, he has sought to appeal to traditional Chavez supporters, urging Venezuelans to "get on the bus" for change.
* Capriles opposes more nationalizations but says Chavez's sweeping takeovers cannot be undone overnight. He plans to study each of the hundreds of nationalized companies case by case to determine if they should return to private hands or be run in joint ownership with workers.
* Capriles says the two-tier currency controls in existence - three-tier if the black market is included - have not achieved their aim of slowing inflation or preventing capital flight. He says their removal should be gradual and depends on investor confidence and economic stability in the post-Chavez era.
* He applauds Chavez's commitment to building clinics and schools in low-income areas and offering free services, but says the programs have been chaotically and often corruptly administered. He proposes keeping the best of Chavez's much-vaunted "Missions" for the poor, while administering them better to ensure they benefit the most needy.
* While most opposition candidates say crime is Venezuela's main problem, Capriles has made education his flagship policy, pointing to a strong record of opening new schools in Miranda state. "Proper education is the long-term solution to our crime problem," he said.