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Chávez, Sí, but maybe not forever

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"The referendum will be won or lost on what happens with the ni ni," says Mr. Leon. "There are ni nis with a tendency toward [supporting Chávez], there are ni nis with a tendency toward the opposition, and there are ni nis who may vote for Chávez or may vote for the opposition, depending on what is going on."

All of them – to varying degrees – are capable of swinging either way, says Leon.

Where are the solutions?

For many Venezuelans, neither Chávez's government nor the opposition – a loose coalition of six or seven major parties that range from center left to center right – provides a solution.

An office manager in Caracas who spoke on condition of anonymity says that he voted for Chávez in each election up to 2006.

But he voted against a package of reforms – that included the scrapping of presidential term limits – in a referendum in December 2007.

In last year's regional elections, he voted for opposition candidates for governor and mayor but also for a party aligned with Chávez in the legislative council as "a counterweight".

"I'm not from one side or the other because I can't find any figure that represents me," says the office manager. "There are sectors of the opposition that are identical to what existed before and which propose the same types of policies that are very regressive from a social point of view.

"They don't represent a real alternative for change against chavismo," he says. "They're very much controlled by the sectors with power – in some ways Chávez is right to call them oligarchic."

The office manager applauds initiatives such as the community councils, which are neighborhood panels of elected representatives chosen to address local problems, but does not necessarily credit the government with their success.

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