CARACAS, Venezuela — Just over a month after Hugo Chavez succumbed to cancer, Venezuelans vote Sunday to replace the firebrand socialist president who built a near-monopoly of power during 14 years in office.

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THE CANDIDATES:

_ Nicolas Maduro, 50, burly former bus driver and union leader; longtime Chavez foreign minister. Fortified by petrodollars, well-oiled party and state apparatus. Anointed by Chavez. Close to Cuba. Campaigned on devotion to his mentor, continuation of "socialist revolution." Favored.

_ Henrique Capriles, 40, governor of Venezuela's most populous state. Grandson of Holocaust survivor. Heads opposition battered by government intimidation. Lost to Chavez in October by nearly 11-point margin. Took a more confrontational line against Maduro. Backed by private sector, but vows not to dismantle Chavez anti-poverty programs. Underdog.

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THE COUNTRY


South American nation of 28 million people with the world's largest proven petroleum reserves.

Millions of Venezuelans have been lifted out of poverty under Chavez's rule, and income distribution has become less unequal, though soaring prices, food shortages, crumbling infrastructure, worsening power outages and rampant crime have become campaign issues.

With annual inflation topping 20 percent, the government has imposed price controls on basic goods. But lower production and currency controls have caused shortages of foods including sugar, coffee, cornmeal, chicken and beef.

Factories have rolled back production and oil production has slipped.

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VOTING

Nearly 19 million registered voters. Automated touch-screen voting machines.

Polling stations open at 6 a.m. (6:30 a.m. EDT; 1030 GMT) and close 12 hours later, unless people are still waiting in lines. Officials say results expected about three hours after polls close.

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  • A woman sits next to an election campaign message that reads in Spanish; "Maduro has the wheel. Our course is socialism," in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, April 12, 2013. Interim President Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver, served as foreign minister and vice president for Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez. Maduro is running against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in Sunday's upcoming presidential election. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

  • A woman walks by an election campaign message that reads in Spanish; "Chavez, I swear to you, I will vote for Maduro," in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, April 12, 2013. Chavez's hand-picked successor, acting President Nicolas Maduro, will face opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in Sunday's presidential election. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

  • A pedestrian walks by a wall covered in election campaign posters and graffiti in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, April 12, 2013. Interim President Nicolas Maduro,who served as Chavez's foreign minister and vice president, is running against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in Sunday's presidential election. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

  • Posters featuring Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez and interim President Nicolas Maduro hang on a pole at the 23 de Enero neighborhood in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, April 12, 2013. Maduro,who served as Chavez's foreign minister and vice president, is running against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in Sunday's presidential election. AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

  • A youth dressed as Hugo Chavez holds a bird during the closing campaign of Venezuela's acting President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday April 11, 2013. Maduro, Chavez's hand-picked successor, assured last week during a campaign rally that Chavez's spirit appeared to him in the form of a little bird that flew around his head inside a wooden chapel to give him his blessing. He is running for president against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in the presidential election set for Sunday, April 14. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

  • Supporters hold a toddler wearing a Maduro-style mustache at the closing campaign rally for Venezuela's acting President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday April 11, 2013. Maduro, the hand-picked successor of Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez, is running for president against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles on April 14. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

  • Nicolas Maduro

    Venezuela's acting President Nicolas Maduro stands surrounded by his family during his closing campaign rally in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday April 11, 2013. Maduro, the hand-picked successor of Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez, is running for president against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles on April 14. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

  • Venezuela's acting President Nicolas Maduro greets supporters from the top of a vehicle as he arrives to Bolivar Ave. for his closing campaign rally in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday April 11, 2013. Maduro, the hand-picked successor of Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez, is running for president against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles on April 14. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

  • Supporters attend the closing campaign rally for Venezuela's acting President Nicolas Maduro, where they hold up a painting depicting Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez, left, Jesus, center, and independence hero Simon Bolivar, right, in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday April 11, 2013. Maduro, the hand-picked successor of Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez, is running for president against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles on April 14. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)