CARACAS, Venezuela — Fighting for his political life, President Hugo Chavez overcame a vigorous challenge by Henrique Capriles in Sunday’s presidential election, receiving another six-year term that will give the populist firebrand the opportunity to complete the consolidation of what he calls 21st century socialism in one of the world’s great oil powers.
The victory, announced by the National Electoral Council late Sunday, gave Chavez the win with 54.4 percent of the vote, while Capriles took 44.9 percent. In winning his fourth presidential election since 1998, Chavez captured just over 7.4 million votes to 6.1 million for his adversary, turning back what had been a determined battle by Capriles, a 40-year-old former governor.
“I congratulate the opposition and the directors of the opposition, because they recognize the victory of the people,” Chavez told throngs of supporters gathered outside the presidential palace. “That’s why I send them this salute and put out my arms to them, because we are all brothers in the fatherland of Bolivar.”
Half an hour later, Capriles conceded at his campaign headquarters. But he signaled that the support of millions of Venezuelans showed that his proposals had struck a chord. And he asked that Chavez, who often mocks his foes as oligarchs and lackeys of U.S. imperialism, take the opposition’s needs into account.
“I’m convinced that this country can be better,” Capriles said in a halting, emotional speech. “Being a good president means working for all Venezuelans.”
Chavez’s victory touched off wild celebrations in the capital, where crowds of the president’s red-shirted supporters — the “Chavistas” from the poorest barrios who have been the backbone of his movement — set off fireworks and blew horns.
“You can’t do better than this president,” said Miguel Guevara, 77, who sells books in the streets and voted in a poor barrio whose support helped bring Chavez to power. “The only one who has helped the country is named Hugo Chavez.”
The president of the electoral council, Tibisay Lucena, said more than 80 percent of the country’s nearly 19 million registered voters participated in the election.
“To the participants who didn’t get victory, consider yourselves victors, too,” she said in making her announcement to loud cheers among Chavez’s supporters. “To participate in an electoral process like this one, in democracy, is a victory for the whole people of Venezuela. The entire country has won.”
Chavez still faces a host of challenges that were highlighted by Capriles’s focused, well-organized campaign, in which the youthful lawyer — known as “Skinny” to his followers — hammered the government daily for the country’s decaying infrastructure, increasing dependence on oil exports and inability to control one of the world’s highest homicide rates.