Chavez defeated challenger Henrique Capriles by 7.44 million to 6.15 million votes (54.4 to 44.9 percent), according to results released by the country’s National Electoral Council late Sunday. A third-placed candidate, Reina Sequera, took 0.46 percent of the votes in an election marked by a record high turnout of 81 percent of registered voters.
Despite the 9.5-point margin of victory, the results demonstrated diminishing support for the 58 year-old Chavez. When he first won the presidency in late 1998 his winning margin was almost twice as big as it was on Sunday. It was even greater in 2006, when he won re-election by 26 points.
His second term was supposed to expired in 2013 but in 2009 he won a referendum allowing him to change the Venezuelan constitution to end presidential term limits. Chavez, who has been receiving treatment for cancer, is now in line to remain in power until 2019.
Conceding defeat, Capriles, a state governor 18 years younger than Chavez, thanked the more than six million Venezuelans who had voted for him, saying “do not feel defeated, because God’s timing is perfect.”
He congratulated Chavez: “I ask you to be a good president, to work for the solution of the problems of all Venezuelans,” the Telesur television network quoted him as saying.
Critics of Chavez accused him of paving the way for victory by using oil revenues to buy support through social spending and patronage, through intimidation tactics, and by manipulating and monopolizing the media.
“Chavez has denied access to international election monitors, employed last minute ballot changes, controlled the judicial system, harassed independent journalists, and consolidated his power to manipulate the vote in his favor,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said late Sunday in a statement calling his re-election “unfortunate.”
“Chavez must not be allowed to continue to export his hate and despotism abroad like his fellow dictators in Iran and Cuba through the oppression of the press and violation of human rights,” she added. “The United States and responsible nations must remain steadfast in our defense of democracy and freedom and not bow to Chavez’s tyranny.”
The Carter Center has monitored previous Venezuelan elections, but after the last one, in 2006,
Chavez changed the law to restrict foreign observers. The organization headed by former President Carter has had a study mission in the country during the campaign and sent a small group last week to interview politicians and voters.
It did not enter polling stations, however, and the center said it would not issue an assessment of the election. Instead it plans to publish a report based on its interviews, analysis of laws and regulations, and personal observations.