Voters in Venezuela are due to take to the polls on Sunday to choose between Hugo Chavez, who is seeking re-election for the third time and Henrique Capriles, a young lawyer from an upper middle class family.
Preparations were in full swing on Saturday for an election that will determine who governs the country for a six-year term from 2013 to 2019.
Venezuelans crowded grocery stores and markets to stock up on food and queued to collect the national ID cards they need for voting.
In the capital, Caracas, a day ahead of elections authorities set up a special bureaus to issue the cards – the only valid document to vote in the country with hundreds of people having to wait for hours.
The National Electoral Council (CNE) headquarters in Caracas was also buzzing with activity, while both camps were busy with organising and mobilising volunteers.
Over 300 polling stations will be set up in embassies and consulates around the world for Venezuelan nationals living abroad to cast their vote.
Sunday’s ballot is expected to be the tightest presidential election faced by Chavez during his nearly 14 years in office.
Chavez has been leading in most polls ahead of the election, with one survey showing him at a 10 per cent lead in October while others have projected that a neck and neck outcome is likely.
Capriles, 40, has posed the biggest threat to Chavez in his aim to seek third term.
Election observers for Capriles also gathered to plan their logistics ahead of Sunday’s vote, saying they hoped the government would respect the results.
Chavez staged a remarkable comeback after bouncing back from cancer this year and wants a new six-year term to consolidate his self-styled socialist revolution in the OPEC nation.
Victory would allow 58-year-old Chavez to continue a wave of nationalisations and consolidate control over the economy, though a recurrence of his cancer would weaken his leadership and possibly give the opposition another chance.
At an impromptu press conference on the eve of the election, he refused to answer challenging questions posed to him by reporters. Chavez cited election law for refusing to say whether he would quit politics if he lost.
The result of the election also serves as a cliff-hanger for other left-wing governments in the region, from Cuba to Ecuador, who depend on Chavez’s discounted oil sales and generous financial assistance.