Hugo Chavez has won another six years in office after securing a re-election victory in Venezuela’s presidential election defeating challenger Henrique Capriles, the electoral council said.
National Electoral Council president Tibisay Lucena says that with most votes counted, Chavez had about 54 per cent of the vote.
It was Chavez’s third re-election victory in nearly 14 years in office.
The victory gives Chavez another six-year term to cement his legacy and press more forcefully for a transition to socialism in the country with the world’s largest proven oil reserves.
At many polling places, voters lined up two hours before polls opened at dawn.
Capriles had united the opposition in a contest between two camps that distrust each other so deeply there are concerns whether a close election result will be respected.
The stakes could not have been higher.
Many Venezuelans were nervous about what might happen if the disputes erupt over the election’s announced outcome.
‘I’m really tired of all this polarization,” said Lissette Garcia, a 39-year-old clothes seller and Capriles supporter who voted Sunday in the wealthy Caracas district of Las Mercedes. ‘I want to reconnect with all my friends who are “Chavistas.”‘
Chavez’s critics say the president has inflamed divisions by labeling his opponents ‘fascists,’ ‘Yankees’ and ‘neo-Nazis,’ while Chavez backers allege Capriles will halt generous government programs that assist the poor.
During Chavez’s final rally Thursday in Caracas, he shouted to the crowd: “We’re going to give the bourgeoisie a beating!”
Violence flared sporadically during the campaign, including shootings and rock-throwing during rallies and political caravans. Two Capriles supporters were shot to death in the western state of Barinas last weekend.
Troops were dispatched across Venezuela to guard thousands of voting centers Sunday.
Chavez, who says he has emerged successfully from long treatment for cancer, held an impromptu news conference Saturday night, and when asked about the possibility of disputes over the vote, he said he expected both sides to accept the result.
‘It’s a mature, democratic country where the institutions work, where we have one of the best electoral systems in the world,’ Chavez told reporters at the presidential palace.
But he also said he hoped no one would try to use the vote to play a ‘destabilizing game.’ If they do, he said, ‘we’ll be alert to neutralize them.’
His opponents mounted a noisy protest in Caracas and other major cities on Saturday night, beating pots and pans from the windows of their homes to show displeasure with Chavez – and also their hopes for change. Drivers on downtown streets honked horns, joining the din.
The 40-year-old Capriles, a wiry former governor affectionately called ‘Skinny’ by supporters, infused the opposition with new optimism and opinion polls pointed to him giving Chavez his closest election.
Some recent polls gave Chavez a lead of about 10 percentage points, while others put the two candidates roughly even.
‘Chavez is going to fight until his last breath. He doesn’t know how to do anything else,’ said Antonio Padron, a bank employee backing the president.
Padron expressed optimism that the 58-year-old Chavez would win, noting the leader’s survival of a fight with cancer that included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment.