Caracas: A newly re-elected Hugo Chavez will try to finish off the opposition in December regional elections, targeting important state governorships now held by top rivals, analysts say.

With 23 governorships and dozens of legislative seats at stake, the December 16 elections will be a key test of the opposition’s viability after its defeat in the October 7 presidential election.

It also will test the depth of Chavez’s mandate to broaden his socialist agenda and shift power in the states to community councils he controls.

“The opposition’s goal is to retain the five states that are the symbols of its power,” said Jose Vicente Leon, who heads the polling firm Datanalisis.

“The government’s goal is to deliver a death blow by winning in Miranda and Zulia, the country’s most powerful states, now in opposition hands,” he said.

The 58-year-old president, who has been in power since 1999, will also try to win the “rebel states,” governed by one-time allies who turned on him, “to show that anyone who crosses him will be punished,” Leon said.

In the 2008 regional elections, the opposition won the governorships of the five richest and most populous states, as well as two others whose governors had switched sides.

The winner of an eighth state turned against Chavez but remained independent.

“The opposition will try to hang onto the governorships it has and will consider it a triumph if they win any others and consolidate their positions in other regions,” said Mariana Bacalao, a professor at the Central University of Venezuela.

“Chavez, on the other hand, is seeking to reaffirm the results of October 7,” when he won another six-year term in office with 55 per cent of vote, with a majority in 22 out of 23 states.

“Obtaining a big majority in many governorships will send the message that he has total support to deepen socialism and advance toward a communitarian state,” she said.

But the government and opposition both face a tough slog getting supporters to the polls, fearing a lower turnout than in the presidential vote, in which a soaring 81 per cent took part.

“What could end up producing low turnout in the opposition is the high frustration or demoralisation level after losing the presidential vote,” said political analyst Farith Fraija.

The government will meanwhile have to insure its supporters do not grow complacent after their victory last month, he said.

“In the local election, fewer people vote. We are expecting two million fewer than the 15 million who voted in the presidential election,” Leon said.

“A lot of the people who do not vote are pro-government,” Leon stressed. “So the challenge for the opposition is to get over the (presidential) loss, and the disappointment, and get out to vote.”

The charismatic Chavez, who has made few public appearances since winning re-election, will have to hit the campaign trail again to rally supporters in states where ruling party governors have seen their popularity wane.