Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles refuses to throw in towel after narrow presidential poll defeat to Nicolas Maduro

Opposition leader calls for recount ‘of every vote’ in Venezuela’s disputed presidential election

Caracas

Venezuela’s opposition leader refused to acknowledge the result of the country’s presidential election today after Hugo Chavez’s chosen successor claimed victory by an unexpectedly narrow margin.

As news broke that the socialist candidate and acting President, Nicolas Maduro, had eked out a win by less than 2 per cent in yesterday’s poll, his rival, Henrique Capriles, demanded a recount and vowed not to accept defeat “until each vote of the Venezuelan people has been counted”.

Fireworks had illuminated the Caracas skyline on Sunday night as the outcome was announced by the country’s National Electoral Council (CNE). Red-shirted chavistas took to the streets on motorbikes, flying red flags to celebrate the triumph of the man who described himself during the campaign as “Chavez’s son”. Mr Maduro, 50, secured 50.7 per cent of the vote to Mr Capriles’s 49.1 per cent – a result described by the CNE president, Tibisay Lucena, as “irreversible”.

In a victory speech outside the presidential palace, Mr Maduro told supporters he had spoken to his opponent by phone and would gladly submit to an audit of the result. “Let them open 100 per cent of the ballot boxes,” he said. “We are not afraid.”

In spite of the opposition rhetoric, election observers said the poll proceeded smoothly and fairly. “The system is very secure and it will be easy to do an audit,” said Marc Weisbrot, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington DC. “Since 2004, a significant part of the opposition has refused to accept the results of elections. Capriles is playing to that element of the opposition, but he knows these are the results.”

It is the second election Mr Capriles has lost in less than a year. Last October, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state was beaten by more than 11 per cent in a presidential race against an ailing Mr Chavez, who ruled Venezuela for 14 years before his death from cancer on 5 March. However, Mr Capriles managed to overturn some 679,099 of the votes that went against him in 2012, including that of Marcos Garcia, a 29-year-old teacher from the Sabana Grande district of Caracas.

“It’s a disappointing result,” said Mr Garcia. “I have no faith in Maduro himself. He talked so much about Chavez that it made me realise he can never replace him. We want to see Chavez’s revolution continue, but to have a President who has nothing to say for himself is not good for Venezuela.”

Other chavistas were more pleased to see Mr Maduro taking the leadership. “Venezuela was thrilled,” said Vladimir Hernandez, a teacher in Caracas. “It’s a victory for the socialists no matter what the margin. There’s no denying the facts”. Mr Hernandez planned to attend a public vigil at Mr Chavez’s grave in Caracas yesterday afternoon. “Maduro’s job is simple: continue the work of ‘El Comandante’ [Chavez],” he added. “If he does that, there won’t be a problem”.

Opposition supporters, waking up to the possibility of six more years of Bolivarian socialism, were less confident about Mr Maduro’s chances of success. According to a recent report by the United Nations, Venezuela became the most equal society in Latin America under Mr Chavez. Thanks to the income generated by its vast oil reserves, his socialist government was able to offer free healthcare and education programmes to the poor. Yet the new President also faces an increasingly divided electorate, ballooning inflation and soaring crime rates, especially in Caracas.

“I don’t believe he’ll last the full six years,” said Juan Carlos Palacio, a lawyer. “Maduro simply doesn’t have the force of character to lead this country, this isn’t over yet”.

Q&A: What happens now?

Q: Will there be a legal battle?

A: Nicolas Maduro, Hugo Chavez’s anointed successor, had been expected to win by a landslide. But less than two percentage points separated him from Henrique Capriles, who claimed more than 3,000 “incidents” of election fraud took place. If a recount challenges the win, or evidence of fraud mounts, a legal battle is a possibility.

Q: Why was the result so close?

A: The result came as quite a shock for the Maduro camp. Analysts pointed to the litany of problems – such as rampant crime – left behind by Mr Chavez. But many were also said to be affronted by how heavily Mr Maduro campaigned under the late leader’s mantle. Some claimed a slightly lower voter turnout also affected his lead.

Q: What next for Venezuela?

A: Mr Maduro has vowed to carry on Mr Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution”, but he also been signalling intent to bring in changes. He is reported to have told Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, that Venezuela wants to “improve the relationship with the US”. As Mr Chavez’s deputy, he was a known quantity. Now, Venezuela is waiting for him to shake off his former master’s shadow and show himself.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer / Web Designer

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leader in the e-cigarette ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leader in the e-cigarette ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future