CARACAS - Venezuelans voted on Sunday in an opposition primary expected to name a young state governor to challenge Hugo Chavez later this year at a close presidential election in South America's biggest oil exporter.
With each of Venezuela's 18 million registered voters able to take part, all eyes were on turnout as the clearest test yet of the opposition's strength and chances of ending 13 years of Chavez's socialist "revolution."
The reaction of Sunday's losers will show if the fledgling Democratic Unity coalition is ready to rally behind the winner and mount a dynamic campaign for the Oct. 7 election that could chip away at the president's still-dominant popularity.
Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles, 39, is the frontrunner with a lead of as many as 20 percentage points over another governor, Pablo Perez, and three other candidates.
"I aim to be a president who talks much less, who doesn't invade Venezuelans' personal lives so much," Capriles said in a pointed reference to Chavez's longwinded speeches, which local media are often obliged to run live.
"The real game begins on Feb. 13," he added, relishing the chance of a showdown with Chavez.