A high-stakes gamble
The opposition is taking this action because it knows it would be heavily defeated in the poll in two days' time. Its own polling shows its trailing far behind Chavez's Alliance for Change bloc of parties. At present, the Alliance for Change has only a narrow majority in the National Assembly, but this is a reflection not of support for the opposition but of the way that numerous politicians elected on a pro-Chavez ticket did an about face in response to the Chavez government's move to the left in 2001-2003. If the pro-Chavez ticket wins two-thirds of National Assembly seats, it will have the power to amend the constitution, and thus strengthen key reforms like the reorganisation of agriculture and co-management in industry.
The opposition has given up on preventing Chavez winning a two-thirds majority, but it is hoping to be able to present his victory as illegitimate, in the eyes of the world if not in the eyes of Venezuelans. Whether it succeeds in doing this depends largely on what sort of turnout the elections now attract. A high turnout would obviously be devastating for the opposition - not only would it have lost any base in the National Assembly, it would have lost the propaganda war against the Chavez government too. The boycott is a high-stakes gamble that reeks of desperation.
Update: "71% of voters will stay away on Sunday according to a poll we commissioned this week," said Eleazar Diaz Rangel, editor-in-chief of Ultimas Noticias newspaper and friend of Mr Chavez. "A 50-60% abstention rate is OK but anything above that is in dangerous territory."