Grave cri­sis drives elec­tion ap­a­thy

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - WORLD - By Fabi­ola Sanchez and Scott Smith Fabi­ola Sanchez and Scott Smith are As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers.

CARA­CAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates are mak­ing their last-minute pitches be­fore Sun­day’s elec­tion, though many peo­ple are hardly notic­ing as they strug­gle to find their next meal and pay for it with money that is next to worth­less un­der run­away in­fla­tion.

Paus­ing on a bustling street to buy food, Vaceliza Villa didn’t pay at­ten­tion to a noisy campaign march­ing through the heart of Cara­cas’ big­gest slum, Petare. A woman with a mega­phone urged res­i­dents to vote for one of Pres­i­dent Nicolas Maduro’s challengers, who are look­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on grow­ing so­cial dis­con­tent.

“I re­ally don’t care what hap­pens on Sun­day,” said Villa, 47, hold­ing up her bag of raw chicken skins to feed her­self and her 6-year-old daugh­ter for the week.

Af­ter two decades of po­lar­iz­ing so­cial­ist rule, Venezue­lans have grown ac­cus­tomed to see­ing en­tire high­ways filled with some of the world’s big­gest po­lit­i­cal demon­stra­tions, both in sup­port and against the gov­ern­ment. But de­spite im­pas­sioned pleas by the can­di­dates, the cur­rent campaign seems al­most sad by com­par­i­son and marked by ap­a­thy as mount­ing daily prob­lems like short­ages of ev­ery­thing from wa­ter to medicine go un­re­solved amid a grim eco­nomic cri­sis.

Polls sug­gest that turnout could be the low­est since the late Hugo Chavez was first elected pres­i­dent in 1998. The op­po­si­tion’s main par­ties have called for a boy­cott be­cause their lead­ers were barred from run­ning, and le­gions of their sup­port­ers won’t vote af­ter join­ing an un­prece­dented wave of 1 mil­lion Venezue­lans who have fled the coun­try in re­cent years.

Maduro’s main chal­lenger, Henri Fal­con, has drawn tiny crowds and scant me­dia cov­er­age in his criss­cross­ing of the coun­try.

Many be­lieve Fal­con doesn’t stand a chance against well-oiled gov­ern­ment ma­chin­ery that will en­sure Maduro’s re-elec­tion to a sec­ond six-year term.

Ari­ana Cu­bil­los / As­so­ci­ated Press

Pres­i­dent Nicolas Maduro holds a baby along­side first lady Cilia Flores, dur­ing a rally in Cara­cas.

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