Baseball cap stirs dispute in Venezuela race
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles is defying electoral authorities over his use of a baseball cap emblazoned with the colors of Venezuela's flag.
National Electoral Council officials have said they believe Capriles' frequent use of the yellow, blue and red cap while campaigning violates regulations that prohibit the use of the flag's colors in electoral propaganda.
Capriles' response has been to put the cap right back on again.
He donned the hat during a campaign rally Friday, and dismissed the calls by the electoral council.
"Here they kill more than 40 Venezuelans every day, and the issue for the government is the cap I wear," Capriles said in one message on Twitter.
He told the crowd at the rally near Caracas that while officials should be concerned about lapses at the local hospital, they're instead focused on his hat.
The dispute reflects conflicting perspectives between election authorities and the rival of President Hugo Chavez.
Four of the five congressionally appointed members of the National Electoral Council are either Chavez allies or perceived as favoring the president. The council has largely ignored opposition complaints that Chavez is hogging campaign airtime and abusing his presidential authority by regularly forcing all Venezuelan TV and radio stations to interrupt programming for his marathon speeches.
For Capriles, the Venezuelan flag cap has been a regular fixture at his rallies in towns across the country ahead of the Oct. 7 election. At the end of his appearances, he often gives out similar hats to supporters.
"I'm not violating any rule. I respect all the rules," Capriles told supporters in the town of Carayaca. "I also tell you, let's be serious ... the country is waiting for what our plans will be to solve problems. If the government no longer has anything to offer, it's not my fault."
Sandra Oblitas, the electoral council's vice president, said Thursday that officials have warned Capriles' campaign multiple times about the hat.
"What we notice is his violation of the regulation and his open contempt of the electoral authority," Oblitas said.
The electoral council has the power to impose fines or other penalties if it determines a candidate has violated campaign rules.
Chavez criticized Capriles' stance while attending a campaign event in the streets of Caracas. Answering questions from reporters, Chavez said his rival's defiance "is a challenge to the referee, which signifies a challenge to our institutions."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)