President Hugo Chávez has retained power in Venezuela, after defeating opponent Henrique Capriles, by 10 percent of the vote.
Chávez, the longest serving president in Latin America, has been re-elected for the third time. His new term will be from 2013 to 2019. He was first elected to power in 1998.
Shortly after his victory was announced by Venezuela's National Electoral Council at 10:15pm local time, fireworks went off in several Caracas neighborhoods. Thousands of Chávez supporters in red shirts headed towards the Presidential Palace in Caracas to watch the socialist leader speak.
"The candidate of the right and his campaign team have just announced that they have recognized our victory," Chávez told an ecstatic crowd. "And that is a very important step towards the construction of peace and coexistence in Venezuela," added the president, whose politics have deeply polarized Venezuelan society.
In the months leading up to the election, Capriles had been widely portrayed by the international press as Chávez's toughest opponent thus far, with some polls saying that Capriles could win the vote.
In Sunday's election however, Chávez got 54 percent of the vote, while Capriles secured 45 percent. The victory margin for Chávez, was smaller than what he had attained in previous elections, in which he had defeated his opponents by 15 points or more. But it was still a significant difference over Capriles, a social democrat who had promised to run Venezuela as a market economy with strong social programs, in the mold of Brazil.
Chávez has promised to deepen his socialist revolution, which has been characterized by the nationalization of key industries, tight exchange controls and price controls on certain basic goods.
Investment in Venezuela has decreased drastically in the 13 years that Chávez has been in power, but large numbers of the country's poor have also beneffited from generous social programs, funded with Venezuela's vast oil income.
"Venezuela will never return to neoliberalism," Chávez said during his speech, in reference to free market economic polices that had been adopted by previous Venezuelan presidents. "Venezuela will continue to make its transition towards democratic, Bolivarian, 21st century socialism," added Chávez, who says that his political ideology is inspired on the life and teachings of 19th century Venezuelan hero Simon Bolivar.
Capriles, a 40-year-old state governor, conceded defeat to Chávez earlier on Sunday night, shortly after Venezuela's electoral council published results.
"I want to thank the many Venezuelans who placed their trust in me," said the opposition candidate, who was a favorite amongst private investors within Venezuela and abroad. "We have begun to build a new road."
Capriles, who had attempted to reach out to Venezuelans of all political ideologies during his campaign, also had a message for President , Chávez who portrayed the election as a struggle between socialist revolutionaries, and the Venezuelan far right.
"There is a country that has two visions, and to be a good president, you have to work for the unity of all Venezuelans," Capriles said.
Chávez, who has undergone several cancer-related surgeries over the past 18 months, assured his supporters that they had voted for the country's future.
In the months leading up to the election, analysts had speculated that problems plaguing his administration such as high crime rates and Latin American's highest rate of inflation would make victory possible for Capriles.
But Chávez also had several advantages throughout the campaign, including the ability to spend large amounts of money on social programs that would garner him political support. The president also had more time in local media than Capriles, as he implemented an old media law that obliges TV stations and radio stations around the country to show speeches or events that he considered to be issues of national interest.
Chávez has been elected for a six year term that ends in 2019. But doubts about his health, and on his ability to serve out this six-year term remain. Chávez was operated for an unspecified form of cancer in July of 2011, and for another tumor in his pelvic area earlier this year.
If Chávez were to die in office during the first four years of his term, new elections would have to be held within 30 days. At this moment there is no clear successor to the Venezuela president within Chávez's United Sociality Party of Venezuela.