Chávez wins third term as president
VENEZUELA’S HUGO Chávez has once again defied the doubters by winning a new term of office in the presidential election after what had been billed as the closest race of his political life.
To the euphoria of supporters in and around his campaign headquarters, the National Electoral Council announced on Sunday that the president had secured 54.4 per cent of the votes, while his rival, Henrique Capriles, was behind with 44.9 per cent. Some votes were still to be counted, but the council said the result was not in doubt.
Pumping his fist in the air, Mr Chávez addressed his supporters from the balcony of the presidential palace as a barrage of fireworks lit up the sky. “The revolution has triumphed!” he told the crowd, saying his supporters had “voted for socialism”.
“Today we’ve shown that Venezuela’s democracy is one of the best democracies in the world, and we will continue to show it,” he shouted, waving a replica of Simón Bolívar’s sword.
As the result was announced, his supporters burst into cheers and songs of Viva Le Patria and Ooh Aah, Chávez won’t Go. “I’m crying with joy,” said Alirio Guevara, a fisherman from Vargas, who came to Caracas to vote. He joined the joyous crowds at the Chávez campaign headquarters. “In the next six years, we will deepen the revolution.”
In accepting defeat, Mr Capriles took solace in picking up more votes than any previous challenger and restricting Mr Chávez to a single-digit margin of victory.
“In order to win, one must know how to lose. For me, the people’s voices are sacred. For those who feel sad, I tell them, ‘We started to build a road and there it is.’ We have six million people who want a new road.” Underlining the intense interest, the turnout among the 19 million registered voters was a record 80.4 per cent.
Many analysts had warned that a slim margin of victory could lead to violence, but with an almost double-digit gap there was no immediate indication of unrest.
Venezuelans had queued under the sun for up to five hours to cast their vote amid expectations of a possible change, prompted by vastly contrasting opinion surveys in the weeks before the poll.
After the result was announced, Mr Chávez tweeted: “Thank you, my God. Thanks to everyone. Thanks my beloved people!!! Viva Venezuela!!!! Viva Bolivar!!!!!”
Mr Chávez has held on to power for more than a decade despite an attempted coup, a nationwide oil strike and a year-long fight with cancer, which may not be over.
With many voters unhappy at one of the world’s highest murder rates and crumbling infrastructure, his party had lost ground and his long illness had clearly restricted his appearances, particularly in contrast to his 40-year-old rival who was making two stops a day criss-crossing the country.
The opposition had felt this was their best chance to regain power, but the president ended strongly with a giant rally of supporters in Caracas on the final day of the campaign on Thursday.
Mr Chávez promised to use the next six years to correct past mistakes, continue to build a socialist alternative to the capitalist model, use the country’s vast oil revenues to redistribute wealth, promote the revolution overseas and bolster ideological allies such as Cuba and Nicaragua.
But analysts say his reduced margin – down from 26 per cent in 2006 and 16 per cent in 1998 – may prompt changes in the cabinet and policy, particularly with regard to public security and the economy. Mr Chávez’s health concerns are also likely to linger.