President Hugo Chavez wins re-election in Venezuela

 

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez promised to deepen his socialist revolution after a comfortable election victory that could extend to 20 years his polarizing leadership of the South American OPEC nation.

Tens of thousands of ecstatic supporters thronged the streets around the presidential palace overnight, pumping fists in the air after the former soldier beat opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by 9 percentage points.

The new six-year term will let Chavez consolidate his control over Venezuela's economy, possibly by extending a wave of nationalizations, and continue his support for left-wing allies in Latin America and around the world.

"This has been the perfect battle, a democratic battle," Chavez thundered from the palace balcony late on Sunday, holding up a replica of the sword of independence hero Simon Bolivar.

"Venezuela will continue along the path of democratic and Bolivarian socialism of the 21st century."

It was an extraordinary victory for a leader who just a few months ago feared for his life as he struggled to recover from cancer. He won 54.4 percent of the vote, with 90 percent of the ballots counted, compared with 45 percent for Capriles.

Turnout was a record 80 percent of registered voters, boosting Chavez's democratic credentials despite critics' depiction of him as a dictator.

Supporters dripping with sweat strained to catch a glimpse of Chavez from the street below the palace while dancing and drinking rum. "Chavez, the people are with you!" they chanted.

"He will keep protecting the poor, the defenseless and the old," said teacher Gladys Montijo, 54, weeping with joy.

The victory was considerably slimmer than his win by 25 percentage points in 2006, reflecting growing frustration at his failure to fix problems such as crime, blackouts and corruption.

In a nod to those complaints, Chavez said he would be more focused in his new term beginning on Jan. 10.

"Today we start a new cycle of government, in which we must respond with greater efficacy and efficiency to the needs of our people," he said. "I promise you I'll be a better president."

A retired lieutenant colonel who first won fame with a failed 1992 coup, Chavez has become Latin America's main anti-US agitator, criticizing Washington while getting close to its adversaries, including Cuba, Syria and Iran.

A decade-long oil boom has given him tens of billions of dollars for social investments that range from free health clinics to new apartment complexes, helping him build a strong following among the poor.

Following his victory on Sunday, Chavez could order new nationalizations in some largely untouched corners of the economy, including the banking, food and health industries. He took advantage of his landslide win in 2006 to order takeovers in the telecoms, electricity and oil sectors.

But any recurrence of the pelvic cancer which has already forced him to undergo three operations in Havana since June 2011 could derail his plans.

Opposition leaders were crushed by the loss. It followed nearly a month of euphoria among Capriles supporters as the 40-year-old polished his stump speeches, held increasingly fervent rallies and appeared be to gaining ground in the polls.

"We are all hurt and sad but not disappointed. It was an incredible campaign," said housewife Teresa Perez, 51.

"Now I don't know what's going to happen with Chavez in power for six more years."

The youthful state governor put on a brave face, hailing his "house-by-house" campaign as the start of a long road to changing the direction of the country.

"I gave it my all and I'm proud of what we built," a subdued Capriles told supporters at his campaign headquarters.

"I will continue to work for Venezuela."

He and other leaders of the Democratic Unity coalition must now prepare for state governor elections in December, when they will hope at least to increase the opposition's influence. They were hugely disappointed at only winning a majority vote in three of Venezuela's 24 states on Sunday.

The US State Department congratulated the Venezuelan people for the high turnout and generally peaceful voting.

"We believe that the views of the more than 6 million people who voted for the opposition should be taken into account going forward," said State Department spokesman William Ostick.

Though Capriles was indisputably the strongest candidate to face Chavez since the leftist leader was elected in 1998, few in the opposition thought the fight was fair.

Chavez made ample use of state television and spent 47 hours in "chain" broadcasts that force other local television stations to carry speeches peppered with political commentary.

He also handed out houses and pensions financed with state funds, often in ceremonies that glorified his administration, while warning that the opposition would cancel such programs.

The spending spree has weakened Venezuela's finances and may force a currency devaluation in early 2013, which would likely spur inflation that has been a top complaint among voters.

The election result is likely to prompt a sell-off in Venezuelan bonds, which have jumped in recent weeks on Wall Street optimism about a possible Capriles win.

"Going forward, we believe the market is likely to, as in recent years, continue to look at Venezuela as a gradually deteriorating macro story and trade it increasingly as an oil play," Goldman Sachs said in a research note.

Relations with Washington are also likely to remain on edge, though Venezuelan oil has continued to flow to the United States over the years despite diplomatic tensions.

Reuters

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own