Chavez aims to keep control of Venezuela's parliament

With critical parliamentary elections in Venezuela less than two weeks away, analysts say President Hugo Chavez's aggressive campaigning is breathing new life into his party — and clouding the opposition's hopes of eking out a win.

Speaking at the Americas Conference in Coral Gables on Wednesday, Luis Vicente Leon of the Venezuelan polling firm Datanalisis said an August survey shows Chavez's Unified Socialist Party, or PSUV, with a narrow lead over opponents.

According to the poll, 27 percent of the electorate plan to vote for Chavez's allies, 24 percent would vote for opposition candidates and 30 percent remain undecided.

Once the undecided are sorted by party leaning, however, Chavez's allies might expect to win 52 percent of the vote versus the opposition's 48 percent, Leon said.

The PSUV's lead is within the margin of error, but it's clear that the Sept. 26 vote will be hard fought, despite earlier suggestions that the opposition might take the popular vote.

Despite the neck-and-neck race, recent changes to the way voting districts are measured mean that Chavez is likely to hold onto the two-thirds majority in parliament he needs to have his initiatives rubber-stamped, Leon said.

Still, "it would be a great victory for the opposition -- even if Chavez maintained control of the parliament -- for them to win more votes," he said. "In particular for the message that would send looking toward the 2012 presidential elections."

The parliamentary race comes as the South American nation of 27 million faces serious problems, including the region's highest inflation, a shrinking economy and a crime wave that makes Caracas one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

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