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For Chavez, tough competition in Venezuela vote

Opposition parties unite to contest legislative election.

While Chavez continues to enjoy wide-ranging supporter from the electorate, critics argue his popularity relies partly on his use of fear tactics and political patronage.

Ninoska Sojo, a 41-year-old maintenance worker at a recently nationalized cement company, however, said her benefits had improved dramatically under the current administration. In the poor neighborhood where she lives, Sojo’s family can now access free heath care and subsidized food, she said.

Sojo said she worries that gains by the opposition on Sunday could endanger such programs. “We have to be on the alert, because if not, they’ll take away everything,” she said.

Chavez has repeatedly warned that an opposition victory could put the brakes on his socialist project.

“We must win the fight this Sunday,” Chavez said in a recent campaign speech, “because after comes 2011, and it smells of 2012 … The Venezuelan people will choose a new president, and I’m ready to keep building the beautiful fatherland with you.”

But Francisco Marquez, 36, who sells lottery tickets from a rented kiosk, said he hoped an opposition win would lead to laws he said should be a priority in crime-plagued Venezuela, namely gun control.

“They do whatever they feel like,” he said of Chavez’s ruling party. “But they don’t approve the laws they need to approve.”