Election victory for the 'cockroach': Early results in Venezuela indicate that the veteran leader Rafael Caldera has again won the presidency

WHEN a leadership dispute saw him ousted this year from the Christian Democratic Copei party he founded, his opponents dubbed him el chiripero (the cockroach). Rafael Caldera turned the tag to his advantage, used it as a symbol to unite a new rag-tag political grouping and was elected President of Venezuela on Sunday for the second time, according to early official results.

'The cockroach has won the major battle,' Mr Caldera, 77, told jubilant supporters before calling for national unity in a victory speech on Sunday.

Forty-six years after he first ran as the Copei's presidential candidate, and a quarter of a century since he led the party to victory, the former lawyer and man of letters was elected at the head of the makeshift 17- party Convergence grouping that includes far-rightists, Communists and former guerrillas. He will need all his political skills to hold them together, never mind the nation.

His first tasks will be to slow inflation, currently around 45 per cent, slash the public deficit, renegotiate a crippling foreign debt and convince the military to stay in their barracks. Asked at a news conference yesterday which of suspended President Carlos Andres Perez's economic reforms he would change, Mr Caldera replied: 'I'd like to know myself but we're still analysing them in depth.'

An agonisingly slow and complex voting system, overseen by the armed forces, meant only partial results were in by yesterday afternoon. Early official results gave Mr Caldera just over 30 per cent of the vote, the left-wing Causa R (Radical Cause) 25, Copei 22 and the country's other traditional major party, Democratic Action, 20. Television and newspaper exit polls, however, gave Mr Caldera up to 31 per cent with the other three jostling for second place, all around the low twenties in percentage terms.

Claudio Fermin, of Democratic Action, the social democratic party which won in 1988 but saw President Perez suspended facing corruption charges, was the first to concede defeat yesterday afternoon. Copei and Democratic Action had alternated in power since democracy replaced dictatorship in 1959.

The fiery former trade unionist, Andres Velasquez, 40, of Causa R, finally conceded defeat yesterday but said he had won in Caracas and several states and that the overall result would be 'very, very close'. The early official results announced showed Mr Velasquez trailing by only around 20,000 votes but the gap seemed likely to widen.

After Mr Caldera made his victory speech based on exit polls - addressing his supporters as 'my dear cockroaches' - an angry Mr Velasquez accused him of jumping the gun and said it 'could create an undesirable situation'.

Oswaldo Alvarez Paz, 50, of Copei, which Mr Caldera helped found in 1946, held back on conceding defeat until late yesterday afternoon. When he finally did so, he also bitterly attacked Mr Caldera for announcing his victory before a single official result was in and for criticising his two opponents as 'immature' and poor losers.

Mr Caldera, who will be 78 by the time he takes over on 2 February from interim President Ramon Velasquez, is a political science graduate, former lawyer, author of a couple of dozen books and honorary graduate of literally dozens of universities worldwide. Although long considered one of Venezuela's old guard, he bent with the popular mood this year over Mr Perez's demise and metamorphosed into a populist, promising to withdraw many of Mr Perez's free- market reforms.

He made no bones of the fact that he saw himself as 'destined' to solve Venezuela's problems, but how he will govern with his mixed bag of Communists, ex-guerrillas and far-right supporters of the Fifties' dictators remains to be seen. His group is certain to be a minority in both the Senate and House of Deputies.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

Escape from Everest base camp

Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

Gossip girl comes of age

Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

Goat cuisine

It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
14 best coat hooks

Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?