Chavez, opposition share Venezuela poll spoils
Caracas, November 24, 2008
President Hugo Chavez's left-wing party and the growing opposition shared the spoils of Venezuela's local elections as they jostled for political momentum.
Chavez's socialist allies won a clear majority of state races but the multi-party opposition dented his dominance of regional posts, wrenching from him control over some of Venezuela's most populous areas including the capital Caracas.
The results of Sunday's elections could make more challenging Chavez's goal of changing the law to run for reelection in 2012, especially after Venezuelans narrowly rejected the move last year in a referendum.
Allies of the anti-US president won 17 of 20 states despite widespread voter complaints the government has done too little to control some of the world's worst murder rates and Latin America's highest inflation.
The opposition held onto the two states it won at the last regional elections four years ago and also beat Chavez veteran aides in the heavily populated state metropolitan area around Caracas as well as the mayoralty of the capital.
In the two remaining state races, which the national election authority said were too close to call, the opposition claimed slim victories, citing official local results.
The mixed results triggered a public relations battle as each side fought to seize the momentum by persuading Venezuelans it was the victor in an election where a high 65-percent of voters cast ballots.
The outcome of the post-election tussle could determine if Chavez has enough backing to realize his reelection ambitions.
Chavez, who had campaigned frenetically saying his political future was at stake, claimed victory. His party said Venezuela's political map remained the red of the president's self-styled revolution and noted how his allies had tallied about 1.5 million more votes overall than the opposition.
But the opposition said it now governed over the country's most populous areas in a northern coastal tract that is traditionally key to winning elections in Venezuela.
The opposition's wins in major urban centers give it higher visibility to build a record and show it can meet voters' demands for better public services such as trash collection.
Chavez, who has been in power almost a decade and is popular for spending freely on the majority poor, vowed to accelerate his drive toward socialism despite plummeting income from Venezuela's main export, oil.
'The (revolutionary) flame is stronger today,' he said. 'This is a great victory for the party ... The path of building socialism has been endorsed ... and now we will focus on the task of deepening and extending our project.'
But Chavez, 54, gave a generally subdued speech at party headquarters, in contrast to past elections when he typically punched the air and shouted victory slogans from his palace balcony in front of thousands of celebrating supporters.
Fireworks screamed overhead in the capital's upscale areas, marking the opposition's win.
'I invite the president of the republic to work with us to rescue Caracas from anarchy,' Antonio Ledezma, who won the mayoralty of Caracas, said. - Reuters