By Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS (Reuters) - Hugo Chavez's protege and the new flagbearer of socialism in Venezuela has lost no time proving his loyalty in public - in fact, 3,456 times in just 16 days.
That is the number of times acting President Nicolas Maduro has mentioned Chavez in speeches since his mentor's death from cancer on March 5, according to a local tracker.
It amounts to more than 200 times a day as Maduro seeks to capitalize on emotion over Chavez's death and pledges loyalty to his legacy before an April 14 election in which he is running for leadership of the South American OPEC nation.
"Is our count real? Yes, we do actually dedicate our time to stalking, sorry, following Maduro on radio and TV to bring you the best statistics," reads the blurb next to the tongue-in-cheek, graphs-and-all tracker at www.madurodice.com.
The website, whose name means 'Maduro says,' also tracks how many times Maduro mentions the word 'Comandante,' the preferred title that faithful 'Chavistas' gave the former soldier.
It is drawing plenty of attention during the election race - especially among Maduro's detractors, who accuse him of using Chavez's coffin as a virtual campaign prop.
With millions of passionate Chavez supporters still deeply upset over his death, any attempt to belittle or poke fun at his memory is a highly delicate matter.
Maduro himself took loud umbrage this week at opposition criticism that he is a non-entity wrapping himself entirely in the image and symbols of Chavez.
"If they don't want us to name Chavez, let's sing and shout his name a million times!" he declared.
"If they want us to forget Chavez, let's carry him in our hearts, in the walls, the streets, the schools, and the factories," Maduro added in a speech, drawing roars from a crowd of "Chavez lives! The revolution continues!"
One wry observer of Venezuelan affairs, trader and financial analyst Russ Dallen, said Maduro's constant references to Chavez had even spawned a drinking game.
"You listen to a Maduro cadena (mandatory all-channel broadcast, so it is not by choice) and you take a drink every time he says 'Chavez'," he wrote to clients.
"Sadly, it is not much of a game - you get drunk in the first 15 minutes!"
(Editing by Daniel Wallis and Christopher Wilson)