Days before Venezuela vote, Maduro vows wage hikes

CARACAS,  (Reuters) – Acting President Nicolas Maduro promised today to hike Venezuela’s minimum wage by about 40 percent if he is elected in a weekend vote to replace late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.

His opponent Henrique Capriles has vowed a similar salary rise as both men adopt some Chavez-style populism on the campaign trail ahead of Sunday’s vote.

Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver named by Chavez as his heir, is leading opinion polls. But Capriles, a 40-year-old state governor, is predicting a late surge to tip it for him.

The election will not only determine the future of “Chavismo” socialism in Venezuela but also who controls the OPEC member’s vast oil reserves and whether aid to a clutch of left-leaning nations around the region will continue.

Flanked by former fellow transport workers, Maduro told a rally in Caracas that the 2,047 bolivar monthly minimum wage ($325 at the official exchange rate) would be raised 20 percent in May, 10 percent in September, and between 5-10 percent in November.

“The accumulated increase will be between 38-45 percent on average, that’s what I’m announcing, comrades,” Maduro said, to roars from his supporters.

Inflation in Venezuela is the highest in the Americas, at 20 percent last year and probably similar in 2013.

Maduro is vowing to stay faithful to his former boss’ policies, which ranged from controversial nationalizations to wildly popular slum welfare projects, while Capriles wants to implement a Brazilian-style political model in Venezuela.

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