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Venezuelan opposition can confront Maduro anew


Venezuela's opposition is creating fresh complications for Nicolas Maduro, who will inherit a deeply divided nation and a shaky economy when he is sworn in Friday, analysts say.

Having emerged a narrow victor in Sunday's presidential elections to succeed his mentor Hugo Chavez, Maduro has defiantly navigated deadly protests, but on entering office he will face renewed pressure from his opponents.

The country's problems, however, are so complex that opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who is challenging the vote result, must tread carefully to avoid overplaying his hand and losing the ground he gained in recent years.

"Capriles is adding a new layer of difficulty to Maduro's ability to govern at a time when he has a socioeconomic agenda that has to be tackled soon to avoid an even greater crisis," said political analyst John Magdaleno.

After Sunday's elections, which left the oil-rich South American country almost split down the middle, Capriles refused to recognize Maduro's slender 1.8 percent margin of victory.

He demanded a full recount and called for demonstrations, which ultimately turned violent and resulted in at least eight deaths and dozens of injured.

"What the opposition is doing is putting in question (Maduro's) legitimacy, so that on top of the economic difficulties he faces, he now has a political difficulty," said Magdaleno, director of the Polity political consulting firm.

Manuel Felipe Sierra, a journalist and political analyst, agreed Capriles would seek to undermine his adversary.

"It is obvious that he is seeking to de-legitimize Maduro, who according to the forecasts confronts a very difficult outlook on the economic and social fronts," he said.

Among Maduro's most pressing challenges are Latin America's highest inflation rate at more than 20 percent, shortages of some basic necessities, currency devaluations, a shortage of hard cash, and soaring crime.

Those factors are going to force Maduro to make "difficult decisions that could lead to ungovernability in the future," said Sierra.

After Chavez's death, Capriles campaigned on accusations that Maduro had made economic conditions worse with two devaluations and the rise of inflation.

The challenger was rewarded with a meteoric rise in the polls, closing what some pollsters had said was as much as a 15 point gap in the last two weeks of the race. Maduro, meanwhile, failed to hold on to large majorities that Chavez routinely racked up.

But some analysts say Capriles, who has re-energized an opposition tarnished by a failed coup attempt against Chavez in 2002, made a mistake by calling on his supporters to take to the streets in protest against the election results.

The young governor of Miranda state has distanced himself from the violence that occurred in the protests.

And on Wednesday he asked the government to open a dialogue and called off a march to the headquarters of the National Election Council in Caracas, which could have turned violent.

Magdaleno said those moves showed that Capriles "correctly interpreted the need to massively communicate the popular discontent," and "the decision not to march," probably avoided "a lamentable occurrence" that could have damaged him.

"Capriles has to pursue a persuasive strategy with regard to national and international public opinion to maintain a reasonable doubt about the veracity of the results," Magdaleno added.

Carlos Romero, another political expert, believes the opposition will not suffer too much because it "corrected in time," shifting to institutional channels to express its unhappiness.

"But he has to measure his actions," Romero said of Capriles, adding that the opposition can still look forward to municipal and legislative elections over the next two years to build a solid majority, or even a recall election in 2016, at the mid-point of Maduro's mandate.