Caracas: Youthful state Governor Henrique Capriles won Venezuela`s opposition primary on Sunday, setting up a potentially close battle with socialist President Hugo Chavez in an October election.
The ballot marked a step forward in the historically fractured opposition`s attempts to oust Chavez, whose 13-year rule has galvanized the poor but divided the South American OPEC nation and spooked foreign investors.
Capriles, the 39-year-old centre-left governor of Miranda state, won 62 percent of the vote in Venezuela`s first-ever opposition primary vote, easily beating nearest rival Pablo Perez on 30 percent.
"We`ve come to build a future for all Venezuelans," Capriles said at a victory rally, donning a baseball cap in Venezuelan colours and vowing to start his presidential campaign right away.
"As of tomorrow, these legs are going to walk through all the villages, all the slums, all the communities of Venezuela."
The four other opposition candidates joined him on the stage, to a backdrop of fireworks, in a symbolic display of unity meant to turn the page on past bickering inside opposition ranks.
The support of Perez, the governor of the most populous Zulia state who was backed in the primary by two large traditional parties, will help provide Capriles a formidable get-out-the vote machine.
Perhaps as important as Capriles` victory was the opposition turnout of 2.9 million voters in the poll, considerably above what the coalition had targeted in a sign that Chavez`s adversaries have improved their ability to mobilize supporters.
The grandson of Polish fugitives from Nazi persecution, Capriles hopes his energetic style and decent record in Miranda can help him counter Chavez`s vast government spending and popularity among Venezuela`s poorest.
Capriles hails Brazil`s market-friendly but socially conscious policy model as his inspiration and has said he would take a "no shocks" approach to dismantling Chavez`s statist economic policies, such as currency controls.