Henrique Capriles will stand as the opposition candidate in Venezuela’s snap presidential election following the death of Hugo Chavez, the firebrand socialist leader.
Mr Capriles, a state governor who has Jewish roots, announced he will face Mr Chavez’s handpicked heir, former vice-president Nicolas Maduro, on April 14.
“I’m not going to leave the path open for you, Nicolas. I’m going to fight for every vote,” Mr Capriles said.
With Mr Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, expected to win heavily, it was uncertain whether Mr Capriles, who lost by 11 percentage points to Mr Chavez in October, would accept the opposing coalition’s nomination.
But he ended speculation on Sunday night, saying: “What am I going to tell the victims of violence, the people that haven’t seen a drop of that oil [money]? That I’m not going to fight?”
He also accused Mr Maduro of leveraging the quasi-religious fervour that has surrounded Mr Chavez’s death to win support for his campaign.
The acting president responded by calling Mr Capriles a “fascist”.
Mr Chavez, who was in power for 14 years, died two weeks ago after a prolonged battle with cancer.
He defeated Mr Capriles in October by 1.5 million votes, branding him a “low-life pig” during the campaign.
But Mr Capriles, 40, united a traditionally disjointed opposition and led its strongest showing against Mr Chavez.
He is a centrist, in the mould of Brazil’s former president Lula, but overcoming Mr Maduro will be a near impossible task.
“Capriles is facing both Maduro and the myth of Chavez,” said Vladimir Villegas, deputy to Mr Maduro when he was foreign minister. “The opposition’s goal is not winning, but remaining strong.”
State governor Mr Capriles’s second surname, Radonski, is inherited from Polish great-grandparents killed at Treblinka concentration camp. His paternal grandparents were from the 200-year-old Sephardic community in Curaçao, off the Venezuelan coast.