Venezuela's Chávez Wins Decisive Victory

By Juan Forero
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 4, 2006

CARACAS, Venezuela, Dec. 3 -- By an overwhelming margin, Venezuelans reelected President Hugo Chávez on Sunday, further extending a presidency that began when the former paratrooper was swept into power eight years ago, intent on overturning Venezuela's old social order. Chávez will receive another six years in office to broaden his leftist revolution and contest American initiatives across Latin America.

"Today is a new era," the fiery populist leader told screaming supporters. "Venezuela is red, very red."

With 78 percent of the votes counted by 10 p.m., electoral authorities announced that Chávez, 52, had secured 61.3 percent of the vote to 38.4 percent for Manuel Rosales, whose candidacy united a fractured opposition that included former guerrillas, industrialists and right-wing radicals, but had only four months to gather momentum. Minutes after the National Electoral Council announced that Chávez had garnered 5.9 million votes to 3.7 million for Rosales, the president appeared at the balcony of the presidential palace.

Euphoric supporters, ignoring a downpour, burst into the streets, waving flags, shooting off fireworks and chanting pro-Chávez slogans.

"Everything has been completed, the great victory of the Bolivarian revolution," Chávez said as rain soaked him and close aides on the balcony. "It's another great victory: a victory of love, a victory of peace, a victory of hope. It's a victory for all Venezuela. May Venezuela be victorious always."

With the win, Chávez's Bolivarian revolution will last until at least 2013, although Chávez told reporters on Thursday that a change to the constitution could permit him to rule even longer.

"I'm not planning to say in the constitution, 'Hugo Chávez will remain in the presidency until he dies,' because that would be perverse," said Chávez, who under the law can serve only one more term. "It's very different to study the possibility of indefinite reelection. It will always be the will of the people."

Rosales, 53, later conceded defeat without declaring fraud, as opponents had done in the last major election they lost to Chávez, a recall referendum two years ago. Rosales did, however, say that his campaign believed the electoral council's figures were off and that the final results were tighter.

"The truth is that though the margin is closer, we recognize that today we were defeated. But we continue to fight. We will remain in the street," he said. "It's not time to give up."

Earlier in the evening, an aide close to Rosales, Julio Montoya, called early voting estimates "false and manipulated," without offering proof. Other officials in the Rosales campaign said voting equipment malfunctioned at several polling sites and that there were delays in pro-Rosales districts.

Authorities with the five-member National Electoral Council said they had not found serious discrepancies.

"Everything is perfectly normal in the country," Vicente Díaz, who is considered partial to the opposition, told reporters Sunday night. Observers from the European Union, the Atlanta-based Carter Center and the Organization of American States monitored the vote and reported only isolated incidents by early Sunday night.

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