Chavez Wins Re-Election by Wide Margin

By IAN JAMES
The Associated Press
Sunday, December 3, 2006; 10:51 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez won re-election by a wide margin Sunday, giving the firebrand leftist six more years to redistribute Venezuela's vast oil wealth to the poor and press his campaign to counter U.S. influence in Latin America and beyond.

Challenger Manuel Rosales conceded defeat but vowed to remain in opposition. During the campaign, Rosales accused Chavez of edging Venezuela toward authoritarian rule and warned the president could undertake even more radical policies if re-elected.

Minutes after the results were announced, Chavez appeared on the balcony of the presidential palace singing the national anthem. He pledged to deepen his effort to transform Venezuela into a socialist society.

"Long live the socialist revolution! Destiny has been written," Chavez shouted to thousands of flag-waving supporters wearing red shirts and braving a pouring rain.

"That new era has begun," he said, raising a hand in the air. "We have shown that Venezuela is red!... No one should fear socialism... Socialism is human. Socialism is love," Chavez said. "Down with imperialism! We need a new world!"

Since he first won office in 1998, Chavez has increasingly dominated all branches of government and his allies now control congress, state offices and the judiciary. He has called President Bush the devil, allied himself with Iran and influenced elections across the region.

Chavez also has used Venezuela's oil wealth to his political advantage. He has channeled oil profits toward multibillion-dollar programs for the poor including subsidized food, free university education and cash benefits for single mothers. He has also helped allies from Cuba to Bolivia with oil and petrodollars.

He now promises to solidify his social program.

With 78 percent of voting stations reporting, Chavez had 61 percent to 38 percent for challenger Rosales, said Tibisay Lucena, head of the country's elections council. Chavez had nearly 6 million votes versus 3.7 million for Rosales, according to the partial tally.

Turnout among the 15.9 million eligible voters was 62 percent, according to an official bulletin of results, making Chavez's lead insurmountable.

"We will continue in this struggle," Rosales told cheering supporters as he conceded defeat.

Some supporters at his campaign headquarters wept, while others were clearly angry.


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Associated Press