Venezuela is voting in new presidential election, called after the death of Hugo Chavez last month.
Venezuela’s Acting President Nicolas Maduro, chosen by Hugo Chavez as his successor, is running against Henrique Capriles Radonski, currently governor of Miranda state.
Henrique Capriles narrowly lost to Hugo Chavez in elections last October.
On the eve of polls opening, he accused Nicolas Maduro of breaking election laws by continuing its campaign on state television.
Electoral authorities say voting has been going smoothly. Security had been stepped up for the vote.
Nicolas Maduro, 50, whose campaign has focused on his close relationship to Hugo Chavez, was shown visiting the tomb of the late leader, a move Henrique Capriles, 40, said was “violating all the electoral norms”.
Both candidates have to some extent broken the media silence they are supposed to have maintained since campaigning officially ended on Thursday.
Almost 19 million Venezuelans have the right to vote in the poll.
Nicolas Maduro cast his vote in the Catia area of the capital Caracas, accompanied by Hugo Chavez’s two daughters. Henrique Capriles voted in the Las Mercedes district of the capital.
Hundreds of election monitors are present from different countries and international organizations to ensure the poll is free and fair.
The vote is electronic – one machine will identify voters’ fingerprints, and a second will recognize identity card numbers and register the vote anonymously.
Polls will stay open until all those queuing at closing time have voted.
Official results are expected about three hours after the polls close.
Both presidential candidates wrote on Twitter early in the morning.
Nicolas Maduro invited Venezuelans to vote to guarantee the future and the perpetual peace of their country.
Meanwhile opposition candidate Henrique Capriles said: “The big day is here!” and used a hashtag urging people to “vote without fear”.
Former President Hugo Chavez died on March 5, after a two-year battle against an undisclosed type of cancer, prompting a short electoral campaign period before Sunday’s elections.
The winner is due to be sworn in on April 19 and serve until January 2019, to complete the six-year term that Hugo Chavez was supposed to have begun in January.
Hugo Chavez was a divisive leader. To his supporters he was the reforming president whose idiosyncratic brand of socialism defeated the political elite and gave hope to the poorest Venezuelans.
He effectively used his country’s vast oil reserves to boost Venezuela’s international clout, and his strident criticism of the US won him many political allies in Latin America.
However, Hugo Chavez’s political opponents accuse him of being an autocrat, intent on building a one-party state.
Hugo Chavez bequeaths a nation beset by crumbling infrastructure, unsustainable public spending and under-performing industry.
His handpicked candidate Nicolas Maduro is seen as the front-runner, but recent polls suggested the gap between him and his rival was narrowing.
- Named by Hugo Chavez as preferred successor; currently Venezuela’s acting president
- Served as vice-president and foreign minister under Hugo Chavez
- Former bus driver, lifelong socialist and trade unionist
Henrique Capriles Radonski:
- Trained as a lawyer, currently governor of state of Miranda
- Gained 44% of vote against Hugo Chavez in 2012 elections
- Describes policies as “centrist” and cites former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as inspiration