The vote in this country of 29 million came less than six weeks after Chavez, 58, died at a Caracas military hospital after a long battle with cancer. His death plunged his fervent followers into mourning and gave Maduro, who had been the vice president, the potent sympathy vote in a country where millions had come to view Chavez as a father figure who never failed to reward them with gifts. The victory gives Maduro a six-year term.
Days before the vote, polls showed Maduro, 50, a former union activist with close connections to the Castro brothers in Cuba, holding a double-digit lead over Capriles, 40, a lawyer and governor. Capriles lost to Chavez in an October election, dispatched handily despite a long and hard-fought campaign, and his outlook for victory in the days after Chavez’s death appeared grim.
But after running an intense campaign, Capriles closed the gap in recent days — leading to a near tie that the opposition may end up contesting. Maduro appeared to recognize that possibility as he spoke to a throng of supporters outside the presidential palace, just as his boss, Chavez, had after electoral victories.
“Yesterday and today I said it — I win with one vote, I win. If I lose with one vote, I turn over [power] immediately,” he said. “The electoral authorities said what the people wanted.”
The government’s media apparatus — which includes half a dozen TV stations, newspapers and dozens of community radio outlets — deified Chavez and reminded people that he had proclaimed Maduro as his political heir. Chavez exhorted Venezuelans in a Dec. 8 speech to vote for Maduro should Chavez have to give up power, and the clip was played repeatedly on television and at political rallies.
Capriles’s aides complained that Maduro’s campaign was backed by the power of the state — from the military, which made sure voters got to the polls, to the various ministries of Venezuela’s large government, which ensured that hundreds of thousands of state workers voted for the ruling-party candidate.
Maduro frequently warned that a vote for Capriles would be akin to treason — supporting a diabolical opposition of oligarchs and swindlers who would pillage the country with their masters from the United States, which the government here calls “the empire.”
“These are the people of Chavez. This is Chavez’s place. Chavez continues as an example for us!” Maduro shouted in his closing address atop a stage over Bolivar Avenue in the center of Caracas, the spot where Chavez gave dozens of rousing speeches. “I am ensuring the legacy of my commander, Chavez, the eternal father.”