Polls have opened in Venezuela, where incumbent Hugo Chavez faces the sternest test since taking office in 1999. It's the third time Chavez will fight for re-election, and pollsters expect a closer race.
Venezuelans queued up around the country to cast their ballots Sunday, in an election where state governor Henrique Capriles poses at least some threat to Hugo Chavez's nearly 14 years as president.
#video#Chavez supporters played a dawn chorus with bugles to call people out to vote, with almost 14,000 polling stations opening at 6 a.m. local time (1030 GMT) for a twelve-hour period.
Most late opinion polls gave Chavez an edge, though two put 40-year-old Capriles marginally ahead.
Capriles, a former state governor in Miranda, has sought to highlight rising crime rates and alleged cronyism in the allocation of state funds.
Chavez, meanwhile, has said in his campaign that Capriles represents a right-wing threat that would undo his socialist policies, such as educational and health reforms, which have won him particular support in more impoverished rural areas of the country.
'Won't be the end of the world'
Election experts have said an electronic voting system is reliable, and both sides have pledged to accept the results.
"I ask political actors from the left, right and center to prepare emotionally to accept tomorrow's results. It's not going to be the end of the world for anyone," Chavez said in a last-minute televised address on Saturday night.
The 58-year-old, who apparently fought off a bout with cancer this year, has nationalized several key industries including Venezuela's crucial oil producer PDVSA. The former army officer, mentored by Fidel Castro of Cuba, is among the sharpest critics of the US in South America. In December 2006 elections, he comfortably won over 60 percent of the vote.
Capriles, having succeeded in uniting the country's often fractious opposition, is likely to pose a sterner test. On the campaign trail he described himself as David fighting Goliath.
Almost 19 million Venezuelans are eligible to vote. Preliminary results are expected late Sunday, though no official time has been submitted.
msh/slk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)