(Reuters) - Venezuelan acting President Nicolas Maduro and opposition candidate Henrique Capriles square off in Sunday’s election to determine who will succeed socialist leader Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer last month.
Following is information about the candidates and their policies:
* A former labor union leader who used to drive a bus for the Caracas public transport system, the burly and mustachioed Maduro is a staunch Chavez loyalist chosen by him as his preferred successor.
* Maduro, 50, entered politics in 2000 as a legislator in the National Assembly, where his combative defense of Chavez’s policies made him one of the president’s proteges.
* He rose to become president of the assembly, a post later occupied by his partner, Cilia Flores, a lawyer. When Chavez was imprisoned after a 1992 coup attempt, Flores led the legal team that won his freedom two years later.
* As foreign minister for six years starting in 2006, Maduro was a faithful ambassador expounding Chavez’s views around the world, including critiques of global affairs from a hard left-wing stance. He won plaudits from foreign diplomats, however, for his affable style, and cultivated important friendships in Russia and China.
* Chavez named Maduro vice president last October, reveling in his working-class roots. “He was a bus driver. How they mock him, the bourgeoisie,” the president laughed.
* His endorsement of Maduro as his heir quelled the ambitions of other powerful figures in the ruling Socialist Party, such as National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello, who had been widely considered a future candidate for president.
* Although very public about his Catholic faith, Maduro has also been a follower of the late Indian spiritual guru Sai Baba, whom he and Flores visited in 2005.
* On the campaign trail, Maduro has declared himself a “son” and “apostle” of Chavez. While lacking Chavez’s charisma, Maduro has sought to emulate his former boss’ man-of-the-people political persona, kissing babies, greeting workers and occasionally bursting into song.
* He delighted supporters, and drew mockery from critics, by saying he was visited by Chavez’s spirit in the form of a bird that sang to him while he was praying in a chapel.
* Presenting himself as the heir to “Chavismo,” Maduro pledges to extend and deepen the late president’s “21st century socialism” in the South American OPEC nation.
* During his interim leadership while Chavez was sick, and then in the weeks since his death, Maduro has at times seemed just as hard-line as his mentor. He has called the opposition “heirs of Hitler,” expelled two U.S. diplomats and cut off back-channel dialogue with Washington, ended talks over the fate of political prisoners, and blamed “speculators” in the local business community for Venezuela’s economic problems.
* Despite that, Maduro has always been viewed in some quarters as a potential reformer, and there is speculation that he may start to show a different face after Sunday if he wins.
* Maduro seems sure to maintain ties with “anti-imperialist” allies from the Chavez-era such as Iran, Belarus and Cuba, but he may also revive dialogue with the United States in the hope of easing years of distrust and spats.
* Maduro has kept Chavez’s currency controls and is unlikely to lift them. He presided over a devaluation of the bolivar just before Chavez died. He later allowed a second restructuring of the currency controls to create a two-tier system that amounted to a further devaluation, but also gave some more flexibility in the provision of dollars to businesses.
* He vows to continue popular, Chavez-era “missions,” or social welfare programs, that range from new clinics and schools in low-income areas, to subsidized food and apartments.
* Knowing that crime is Venezuelans’ No. 1 concern, Maduro has vowed to tackle it head-on with a slum disarmament program.
* He wants to increase oil production via joint ventures, some of the most high-profile with Chinese and Russian firms, in the huge extra-heavy crude Orinoco Belt.
* Capriles, 40, is governor of Venezuela’s second-most populous state, Miranda, which includes parts of Caracas. The state ranges from the capital’s largest shantytown, Petare, to fishing villages and beaches on the Caribbean coast.
* A law graduate, Capriles became Venezuela’s youngest legislator at the age of 26, and then won the mayoralty of a Caracas municipality before beating Chavez loyalist Cabello to win the Miranda governor’s office in 2008.
* His maternal grandparents, the Radonskis, fled anti-Semitism in Poland, arriving in Venezuela with just a suitcase stuffed with clothes. Two great-grandparents died in the Treblinka extermination camp. Despite his Jewish background, Capriles is a devout Catholic who always wears a crucifix.
* His grandparents set up a lucrative cinema business in Venezuela and, through them, Capriles once met famed Mexican comedian Mario Moreno - best known as “Cantinflas.”
* A keen basketball player and sports-lover, Capriles relaxes by joining friends for a game, or going for a run after dark. On the campaign trail, he often downs cans of Red Bull to keep his energy up.
* Capriles was imprisoned for four months after being charged with fomenting a protest at the Cuban Embassy in 2002 - although he says he was mediating. He was acquitted at trial.
* Capriles projects a young and energetic image, dressing simply and riding a motorbike on slum visits. Still a bachelor, he is often inundated with marriage proposals by screaming fans who treat him like a pop star at rallies.
* He lost to Chavez in the 2012 presidential race, but won 6.6 million votes, or 44 percent of the total. It was the opposition’s best showing against Chavez in four presidential votes.
* Defining his politics as “progressive,” Capriles says he wants to copy Brazil’s “modern-left” model of economic and social policies. He was, however, a founder of the conservative Justice First party in 2000.
* Capriles opposes more nationalizations, but says Chavez’s sweeping takeovers cannot be undone overnight. He plans to study each of the hundreds of nationalized companies case by case to determine if they should return to private hands or be run in joint ownership with workers.
* Capriles says the two-tier currency controls - three-tier if the black market is included - have not achieved their aim of slowing inflation or preventing capital flight. He says their removal should be gradual and would depend on investor confidence and economic stability in the post-Chavez era.
* He applauds Chavez’s construction of clinics and schools in low-income areas, but says welfare programs have been chaotically and often corruptly run. He proposes to keep the best of Chavez’s much-vaunted “missions” for the poor, while administering them better to benefit the most needy.
* Capriles has made education his flagship policy in the past, pointing to a strong record of opening schools in Miranda state. In this campaign, he has been emphasizing more the need to bring down crime rates that are among the worst in the world.
* Capriles denies the opposition would privatize state oil company PDVSA as some officials routinely allege. He has vowed, however, it will be “de-politicized” via the removal of its president, Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez.
* Like the government, Capriles wants Venezuela to hike oil production to fund development. But beyond talking about wooing more foreign investment and accelerating projects in the Orinoco Belt, he is vague about how to achieve that.
* On foreign policy, he wants to cool relations with faraway Chavez-era allies such as Iran and Belarus - and stop oil subsidies to political allies including Cuba - while improving ties with the West, particularly the United States.