Historic election win for Venezuela's Chavez
Caracas, October 8, 2012
Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez comfortably won re-election on Sunday, quashing the opposition's best chance at unseating him in 14 years and cementing himself as a dominant figure in modern Latin American history.
Chavez's victory will extend his rule of the state to two decades, though he is recovering from cancer and the possibility of a recurrence hangs over him.
Jubilant supporters poured onto the streets of Caracas to celebrate the victory of a man who has near-Messianic status among Venezuela's poor. And there was relief too among leftist allies around the region - from Cuba to Bolivia - who rely on his oil-financed generosity.
"I'm celebrating with a big heart," said Mary Reina, a 62-year-old Chavez supporter who lives in the hillside slum where the president cast his vote. "Chavez is the hope of the people and of Latin America."
The 58-year-old Chavez took 54.42 percent of the vote, with 90 percent of the ballots counted, compared with 44.97 percent for young opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, the electoral authority said.
Chavez's fans partied and set off fireworks in the streets. A subdued and tired-looking Capriles accepted defeat in a speech at his campaign headquarters.
"I hope a political movement that has been in power for 14 years understands that almost half the country does not agree with it," Capriles told crestfallen supporters.
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.
Highlighting the relief among leftist allies in Latin America, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez wrote via Twitter: "Your victory is our victory! And the victory of South America and the Caribbean!"
At home, casting himself as an heir to independence hero Simon Bolivar, Chavez has poured billions of dollars in oil revenues into anti-poverty programs, and skillfully used his humble roots and folksy oratory to build a close connection with the masses.
But his 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 percent will boost Chavez's democratic credentials, though critics said his use of state resources made a mockery of fairness during the campaign.
Attention will now shift to Chavez's plans for a new six-year term at the helm of South America's biggest oil exporter.
The government spent lavishly during the campaign to boost Chavez's chances, likely ensuring healthy economic growth of 4 to 5 percent this year but potentially paving the way for an inflation-fueled hangover in 2013.
In the past, Chavez has taken advantage of election wins to press forward with radical reforms, and there is speculation that his taste for nationalizations may turn to some untouched corners of Venezuela's banking, food and health industries. - Reuters