Hugo Chavez wins election


Al Jazeera |

Electoral Council says with most votes counted Chavez had about 54 per cent of votes, while his rival got 44 per cent.

Venezuela’s electoral council says President Hugo Chavez has won re-election, defeating challenger Henrique Capriles.

National Electoral Council president Tibisay Lucena said on Sunday that with most votes counted, Chavez had about 54 per cent of the vote, while his rival Henrique Capriles garnered 44.99% of votes.

It was Chavez’s third re-election victory in nearly 14 years in office.

The victory gives Chavez another six-year term to cement his legacy and press more forcefully for a transition to socialism in the country with the world’s largest proven oil reserves.

Turnout had been high and voting was extended beyond the official closing time of 18:00 (22:30 GMT) at some polling stations where big queues were formed.

The electoral council’s president, Tibisay Lucena, said any stations where voters had not cast ballots would remain open.

Electoral officials gave no indication of when they might begin releasing first returns. Publishing exit polls and unofficial vote counts is illegal in Venezuela.

Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman, reporting from Caracas, said “Both candidates have called for people to be patient and wait for the results, both men have said they will respect the result.”

Chavez, the Venezuelan president, appealed for calm as his supporters began setting off fireworks and partying in the street on Sunday night in anticipation of victory in the presidential election.

“Let’s way for the results with patience, calm and prepare to recognise the results, whatever they maybe,” he said in a phone call broadcast during a press conference held by his campaign team.

“I ask the nation to stay calm, be patient and that nobody despair, that nobody fall into provocations, no violence, and we wait for the results,” Chavez said.

“Let’s prepare for this with maturity, with good faith and the willingness to continue the march of the Bolivarian fatherland,” Chavez said, referring to Venezuela’s independence hero Simon Bolivar.

Capriles tweeted “We know what happened and we should wait,” , calling Sunday “a grand, historic day.”

While not accusing the government of intentionally delaying results, Capriles did complain earlier that most voting stations lacked lines and the government should get on with the vote-counting.

Capriles spokesman Armando Briquet demanded all motorcycle traffic be banned. In the past, gangs of red-shirted motorcyclists chanting pro-Chavez slogans have intimidated people.

Chavez’s campaign manager, Jorge Rodriguez, told reporters there were no such plans. “This country has freedom of circulation,” he said at a news conference.

The Leftist president is hoping to get a third term in office but is facing tough competition from Capriles.

Chavez, who won 62 per cent of the vote in the 2006 election, held a 10-point lead in the latest opinion poll, but other surveys have put the rivals in a statistical dead heat.

Capriles, 40, a lawyer-turned-politician who has never lost an election, has rallied support by focusing on the day-to-day problems that worry voters most, such as high crime, power blackouts and endemic corruption.

Sporting what he called his “lucky shoes,” the superstitious Capriles struck a conciliatory tone after voting.

“Whatever the people decide today is sacred,” he said to applause from supporters. “To know how to win, you have to know how to lose.”

On the eve of elections, Venezuelans crowded grocery stores and markets to stock up on food and queued to collect the national ID cards they need for voting.

The National Electoral Council (NEC) headquarters in Caracas was also buzzing with activity, while both camps were busy with organising and mobilising volunteers.

Over 300 polling stations were also set up in embassies and consulates around the world for Venezuelan nationals living abroad to cast their vote.

“At most polling stations, lines stretched for blocks,” Al Jazeera’s Chris Arsenault reported from Caracas.

“Geography plays a huge role on voter preferences. In the upper class areas, the vast majority despise Chavez and are backing the opposition. In the slums or barrios, most are backing Chavez. In middle class areas, the vote is more divided.”

Tight race

Chavez has been leading in most polls ahead of the election, with one survey showing him at a 10 per cent lead in October while others have projected that a neck and neck outcome is likely.

In Cota 905, a poor barrio, all the voters Al Jazeera interviewed said they were backing Chavez. “Chavez has given many benefits to us,” Mireya Cecilia Maestro, a housewife, told Al Jazeera. “The social programmes, the subsidised food markets and all the housing projects help us a lot.”

Chavez staged a remarkable comeback after bouncing back from cancer this year and wants a new six-year term to consolidate his self-styled socialist revolution in the OPEC nation.”The changes have been pretty positive,” Antonio Tovar, a Chavez supporter in Cota 905, told Al Jazeera. “The government has helped the people a lot.”

Victory would allow 58-year-old Chavez to continue a wave of nationalisation and consolidate control over the economy, though a recurrence of his cancer would weaken his leadership and possibly give the opposition another chance.

“Some of the changes in the last 14 years are positive, others are negative, there is no black and white,” Raiza Yellamo, a retired education sector employee voting in a lower middle class area told Al Jazeera. “Before Chavez, education was a benefit not a right. I hope there will be social cohesion and unity after the election. We need an equal society for all.”

“The most important thing is to be free: to have security, and electricity and to stop the corruption,” Adriana Mancera, a businesswoman, told Al Jazeera as she left a polling station in the posh Chacao district. “There is going to be a huge change. Here anything could happen, Chavez has a militia and they are armed. I don’t think he will recognise the results when he loses.”

The result of the election also serves as a cliff-hanger for other left-wing governments in the region, from Cuba to Ecuador, who depend on Chavez’s discounted oil sales and generous financial assistance.