CARACAS, Venezuela – President Hugo Chavez put to rest any doubts about his masterful political touch in winning a third consecutive six-year term after a bitterly fought race against a youthful rival who has galvanized Venezuela’s opposition.
The state governor who lost Sunday’s presidential vote, Henrique Capriles, had accused the flamboyant incumbent of unfairly leveraging to his advantage Venezuela’s oil wealth as well as his near total control of state institutions.
Capriles also narrowed Chavez’s margin of victory to his smallest yet in a presidential contest. This time, the former army paratroop commander who led a failed 1992 coup won 54 percent of the vote against 45 percent for Capriles. In 2006, Chavez’s margin of victory was 27 points.
Nevertheless, the populace endorsed once again Chavez’s stated aim of converting Venezuela into a socialist state.
Capriles said in his concession speech that he rejects the idea of two Venezuelas divided by ideology and class.
“I will continue working to build one country,” said the wiry, 40-year-old grandson of Holocaust survivors who unified and energized the opposition while barnstorming across the oil-exporting nation.
Capriles had vowed to seriously address violent crime that has spun out of control, streamline a patronage-bloated bureaucracy and end rampant corruption, but his promises proved inadequate against Chavez’s charisma, well-oiled political machine and legacy of putting Venezuela’s poor first with generous social welfare programs.
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