The president of the National Assembly of Venezuela, Diosdado Cabello, said that President Hugo Chávez is "totally conscious" and giving instructions from Havana, where he was operated Tuesday for cancer.

"He is totally conscious and giving instructions, yes, giving instructions," Cabello told foreign reporters Saturday, shortly before a ceremony was to begin celebrating the founding of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, or ALBA, eight years ago.

And Chávez's son-in-law, Jorge Arreaza, who is also the government's science and technology minister, said in a phone call from Havana broadcast on television that the president is in full control of his mental faculties and has been talking with his children. He also said that Chávez is getting daily visits from Fidel Castro while recovering slowly from the surgery, which was his fourth cancer-related operation since June 2011.

Venezuelans are choosing governors and state lawmakers on Sunday in elections that have become a key test of whether President Chávez's movement can endure if the leader leaves the political stage.

Chávez's political allies framed the election as a referendum on his legacy, urging people to dedicate the vote to Chávez. The government put up banners on lampposts reading "Now more than ever, with Chávez."

Voters in some areas of Caracas were awakened before dawn by fireworks and reveille blaring from speakers mounted on trucks. But turnout in the initial hours of voting appeared to be much lower than the country's October presidential vote, when long lines snaked out of polling stations and Chávez won another six-year term.

The vote is the first time in Chávez's nearly 14-year-old presidency that he has been unable to actively campaign. He hasn't spoken publicly since undergoing cancer surgery on Tuesday in Cuba.

Governorships in all of the country's 23 states are being decided in the elections. Chávez's party currently controls all but eight of the states, and if it maintains its dominance the vote could help the president's allies deepen his socialist policies, including a drive fortifying grass-roots citizen councils that are directly funded by the central government.

For the opposition, the elections are apt to determine the fate of its leadership. The most pivotal race involves opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who gave Chávez his stiffest challenge yet in the October presidential election, and is now running for re-election in Miranda state against Elias Jaua, Chávez's former vice president.

The elections could also be an important dry run for new presidential elections if cancer cuts short Chávez's presidency.

Chávez is due to be sworn in for another term on Jan. 10. But if his condition forces him to step down, Venezuela's constitution requires that new presidential elections be called promptly and held within 30 days.

Chávez said before undergoing the surgery that if he's unable to continue, Vice President Nicolas Maduro should take his place and run for president.

Based on reporting by EFE and The Associated Press.

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