Venezuelan opposition makes big gains in election

Venezuela's opposition won a third of the seats in parliament and claimed a majority of the popular vote in elections, boosting its hopes of defeating President Hugo Chavez at the next presidential poll in 2012.

Although Mr Chavez's Socialist Party retained a majority in the 165-seat National Assembly, it fell short of its goal of keeping at least the two thirds it needs to pass major laws or make appointments to the Supreme Court and electoral authorities without the support of its political foes.

As results came through early yesterday, the newly united opposition Democratic Unity umbrella group said it had won 52 per cent of the overall vote. If confirmed, that would be a symbolic blow to Mr Chavez in the 12th year of his rule of South America's biggest oil exporter.

"We are the majority!" sang opposition supporters after the tallies were announced overnight.

Sunday's polls were watched closely by investors with money in Venezuelan debt. Its benchmark 2027 global bond jumped on the news from polling centres. "This is a huge result for the opposition," David Smilde, a Venezuela expert from the University of Georgia, said.

Following years of defeats and missteps, and a boycott of the last parliamentary poll five years ago, opposition leaders will now focus on trying to topple Mr Chavez in 2012.