Late socialist leader Hugo Chavez’s chosen successor Nicolas Maduro won Venezuela’s presidential election by a whisker but now faces opposition protests plus a host of economic and political challenges in the OPEC nation.
The 50-year-old former bus driver, whom Chavez named as his preferred heir before dying from cancer, edged out opposition challenger Henrique Capriles with 50.7 percent of the votes in Sunday’s election, according to election board returns. Capriles took 49.1 percent, a difference of just 235,000 ballots.
Capriles, whose strong showing beat most forecasts, refused to recognize the result and said his team had a list of more than 3,000 irregularities ranging from gunshots to the illegal re-opening of polling centers.
“I didn’t fight against a candidate today, but against the whole abuse of power,” said Capriles, 40, whose family has Jewish roots, demanding a recount.
“Mr. Maduro, you were the loser … This system is collapsing, it’s like a castle of sand - touch it and it falls.”
A protracted election dispute could cause instability in a deeply polarized nation with the world’s largest oil reserves.
Though some opposition supporters chanted “fraud”, banged pots and pans and burned tires in protest, Capriles did not call them onto the streets en masse.
Maduro said he would accept a full recount, even as he insisted his victory was clean and dedicated it to Chavez.
“We’ve had a fair, legal and constitutional triumph,” Maduro told his victory rally. “To those who didn’t vote for us, I call for unity. We are going to work together for the security and economy of this country.”
The election board said Maduro’s win was “irreversible” and gave no indication of when it might carry out an audit.
Maduro’s slim victory provides an inauspicious start for the “Chavismo” movement’s transition to a post-Chavez era, and raises the possibility that he could face challenges from rivals within the disparate leftist coalition.