Chavez wins Venezuela election
Venezuela's socialist president Hugo Chavez comfortably won his fourth term yesterday, quashing the opposition's best chance at unseating him in 14 years and cementing himself as a dominant figure in modern Latin American history.
Mr Chavez led throngs of supporters in celebration from the balcony of the presidential palace - just months after cancer treatment had taken him out of the public eye and left him fending off rumours he was dying.
A new six-year term will extend his rule of the Opec member state to two decades, giving him a chance to deepen his oil-revenue-fuelled socialism while continuing to support left-wing allies in Latin America, though a possible recurrence of cancer still hangs over him.
"Today we've shown that Venezuela's democracy is one of the best democracies in the world, and we will continue to show it," 58-year-old Mr Chavez shouted, dressed in a signature red shirt and waving a replica sword of independence hero Simon Bolivar.
Crowds roared, and the smoke of fireworks clouded the air.
Mr Chavez took 54.42 per cent of the vote, with 90 per cent of the ballots counted, compared with 44.97 per cent for young opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.
Since taking power in 1999, the flamboyant former soldier has become a global flag bearer of "anti-imperialism," gleefully baiting the US government while befriending leaders from Iran to Belarus whom the West views with suspicion.
At home, casting himself as an heir to independence hero Simon Bolivar, Mr Chavez has poured billions of dollars in oil revenues into anti-poverty programs, and skilfully used his humble roots and folksy oratory to build a close connection with the masses.
Highlighting relief among Latin American allies, Argentine president Cristina Fernandez wrote via Twitter: "Your victory is our victory! And the victory of South America and the Caribbean!"
Opposition leaders appeared crushed by the loss, with some Capriles supporters bursting into tears at his campaign headquarters as the news sank in.
The youthful state governor put on a brave face, celebrating his "house-by-house" campaign as the start of a long road to changing the direction of the country.
"I hope a political movement that has been in power for 14 years understands that almost half the country does not agree with it," a subdued and tired-looking Mr Capriles told crestfallen supporters.
Mr Chavez's victory was considerably slimmer than his win of 25 percentage points in 2006, reflecting anger at his failure to fix basic problems such as crime, blackouts and corruption.
Record turnout of 80 per cent yesterday will boost Mr Chavez's democratic credentials, though critics said his use of state resources made a mockery of fairness during the campaign.