Chavez heir Maduro wins Venezuela presidential election

Will Grant in Caracas: ''It's a questionable victory from the opposition's point of view''

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Socialist Nicolas Maduro, hand-picked successor of the late leader Hugo Chavez, has won a narrow victory in Venezuela's presidential poll.

Mr Maduro won 50.7% of the vote against 49.1% for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.

Mr Capriles has demanded a recount, saying Mr Maduro was now "even more loaded with illegitimacy".

He said there were more than 300,000 incidents from Sunday's poll that would need to be examined.

At the scene

The waiting was long and tense. Rumours on Twitter were growing. Both sides were cautious, but fireworks were going off all around the city.

Even in front of the Miraflores presidential palace there was uncertainty. People started gathering early on in the night, but they listened to radios to keep across the official results.

The National Electoral Council's announcement was broadcast through loudspeakers among the crowd, but people didn't wait to hear the margin by which Nicolas Maduro had won.

Screaming and chanting took over. Beer was thrown into the air. People hugged each other. Nobody seemed to mind if the victory was narrow. "This victory is dedicated to Hugo Chavez, our commander. My vote went to him," said one woman.

Announcing the results late on Sunday night, the National Electoral Council said they were "irreversible".

As the news emerged, celebrations erupted in the capital, Caracas, where Mr Maduro's jubilant supporters set off fireworks and blasted car horns. Opposition voters banged pots and pans in protest.

In a victory speech outside the presidential palace, Mr Maduro, wearing the colours of the Venezuelan flag, told crowds that the result was "just, legal and constitutional".

He said his election showed Hugo Chavez "continues to be invincible, that he continues to win battles''.

Mr Maduro said he had spoken to Mr Capriles on the phone, and that he would allow an audit of the election result.

He called for those who had not voted for him to "work together" for the country.

But Mr Maduro's margin of victory was far narrower than that achieved by Chavez at elections last October, when he beat Mr Capriles by more than 10%.

Almost immediately one member of the National Electoral Council who does not have government sympathies called on the authorities to carry out a recount by hand, a call later echoed by Mr Capriles himself.

Challenges for Venezuela

  • Internal divisions: Venezuelan society is deeply divided into those who see Chavez's "Bolivarian revolution" as the solution to their woes and those who think it has been the country's ruin.
  • Shortages: Everyday items such as nappies, milk, butter and corn flour are often in short supply. Power cuts are not uncommon.
  • Inflation: Double-digit inflation is threatening to wipe out the effects of increases in the minimum wage.
  • Crime: Venezuela has one of the region's highest homicide and kidnapping rates. Few crimes are ever punished. contributing to a culture of impunity.
  • Prisons: Overcrowding and poor conditions have caused a series of deadly prison riots. Many of those in jail have been awaiting trial for years.
  • Relations with the US: Have been tense over the past decades as President Chavez engaged in anti-US rhetoric.

At Mr Capriles' campaign headquarters the mood was sombre, as his supporters watched the results on television. Some cried, while others hung their heads in dismay,

Shortly afterwards, Mr Capriles emerged, angry and defiant.

"It is the government that has been defeated," he said. Then, addressing Mr Maduro directly, he said: "The biggest loser today is you. The people don't love you."

The new president faces an extremely complex task in office, says the BBC's Central America correspondent, Will Grant.

Venezuela has one of the highest rates of inflation in the region and crime rates have soared in recent years, particularly in Caracas. Food shortages and electricity blackouts are also common.

But perhaps Mr Maduro's biggest challenge will be trying to govern a country which is so deeply divided and polarised, and where the opposition say they have an increasingly legitimate stake in the decision-making process, our correspondent says.

The closeness of the race has also caused reflection inside Mr Maduro's own United Socialist Party (PSUV).

The man considered to be Mr Maduro's main rival, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, tweeted that the results "oblige us to make a profound self-criticism".

Divisive legacy

Mr Maduro had been serving as acting president since Mr Chavez died of cancer on 5 March.

Henrique Capriles (14/04/13) Mr Capriles has refused to accept the results

He is due to be sworn in on 19 April and serve until January 2019 to complete the six-year term that Mr Chavez would have begun in January.

Mr Chavez was a divisive leader. To his supporters he was the reforming president whose idiosyncratic brand of socialism defeated the political elite and gave hope to the poorest Venezuelans.

He effectively used his country's vast oil reserves to boost Venezuela's international clout, and his strident criticism of the US won him many political allies in Latin America.

However, his political opponents accused him of being an autocrat, intent on building a one-party state.

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