Venezuelan presidential candidate Nicolás Maduro in front of an image of Hugo Chávez. (Jorge Silva / Courtesy Reuters)
After Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez died last week, his supporters gathered in cities and small towns throughout the country to mourn the man who led the nation for the last 14 years and championed the plight of the poor. Chávez's unique leadership style and one-man rule will be difficult for any Venezuelan politician to replicate: his magnetic personality and aggressive style allowed him to make state decisions unilaterally without having to share his electoral power. The next president will not be able to rely on such traits as he faces the polarized country, dysfunctional economy, and high crime rates that Chávez left behind. And if the next leader comes from the ruling Chavista camp, as is expected, he will need to address the party's internal divisions as well.
In his last televised address on December 8, 2012, before going to Havana for his fourth and final cancer-related surgery, Chávez named his vice president, Nicolás Maduro, as his successor. Thanks to public sympathy for Chávez and, by extension, his anointed heir, Maduro is the favorite to win the presidential elections, which will be held on April 14. But that is not to say he has an easy path ahead. Maduro lacks his predecessor's charisma. He is a talented politician, able to strike deals among competing factions, but he does not have Chávez's popular appeal. Chávez was a superb communicator, employing mass media and new technologies, such as Twitter, to reach millions of followers. Maduro, by contrast, seems less concerned about gaining popular support and will likely rely on state patronage networks and social programs to shore up his position.
To be sure, these institutions will benefit him in the race against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, who unsuccessfully ran against Chávez in the last presidential election, especially because a 20-day electoral campaign leaves little time for the non-Chavistas to organize...