No surprise in Venezuela: Chavez reelected President

The leftist leader defeated his conservative rival, Manuel Rosales, who voiced irregularities during the vote. Chavez plans to rewrite the country’s constitution to deepen his “Socialist revolution”.

An appalling majority of Venezuelans Sunday reelected President Hugo Chavez Frias to rule this oil-rich South American country until 2013, according to official results. The National Electoral Council (or CNE) reported by 10 pm - local time - that Chavez had obtained 61.35% of the vote, as his conservative rival Manuel Rosales trailed him with 33.38% of the voices.

Private exit polls had anticipated official results: Chavez won 58 per cent, while Rosales, a governor of an oil-producing State trailed with 40 per cent, reads a research released by Evans/McDonough Co, a US pollster that had predicted the outcome of a recall referendum that Chavez won in 2004.

Fears of a massive fraud and even an orange revolution in Venezuela were discarded as soon as the CNE posted the first results. Rumors about vote rigging and bloody clashes between opposite groups occupied much of the political debate during the last two weeks of the campaign. However, they quickly fell behind as soon as an explosion of joy filled the streets of Caracas with red shirts to celebrate Chavez’s victory.

“Uh, ah, Chavez no se va! (Chavez isn’t going!)” chanted the followers of the leader of the self-proclaimed Bolivarian Revolution, named after the national hero, Simon Bolivar. “We are going to build the Socialism for the 21st century!” celebrated others, reproducing one of the slogans of Chavez’s campaign.

Chavez’s Socialism, a combination of Marxist theory with a nationalistic approach to local and international affairs may have different interpretations, but his charisma and flourished rhetoric has enchanted millions in today’s Venezuela. “He speaks our language. He dresses like us. He is one of us”, summarizes Isabel, a 45-year-old Chavez supporter at Pravda.Ru request.

Chavez, a close ally of Cuban President Fidel Castro, has vowed to use the new six-year mandate to deepen his revolution. He said he will instruct his collaborators to study a new reform of the country’s constitution to scrap presidential terms limits and reshape the organization of the State.

Early vote

Venezuelans got up early in the morning to vote. As early as six in the morning hundreds of citizens were already lining up outside polling stations in Caracas, waiting for them to open. Early voter turnout was heavy in much of the country, as candidates had asked their followers to do it during the campaign.

“I vote for the President because the Cuban doctors saved the life of my mother, who was very ill. Chavez brought the doctors to Venezuela and they are doing a great job here”, said Maria Clara Rodriguez after casting her vote in the poor western area of Caracas. “We are going to obtain ten million of votes because Chavez works for the people”, told Pravda.Ru, Yolanda Perdomo, a Chavez’s follower at the gates of the school where Chavez voted by noon. During the campaign, Chavez urged militants to obtain 10 million of votes out of the 16 million Venezuelans registered. According to the CNE reports, the president was close to obtain that amount of votes but fell short.

The same long lines were spotted in the wealthy eastern area of the city, where middle and upper class Venezuelans waited for hours to make their choice. “I do not trust Chavez. He speaks and travels a lot but has divided our country since he jumped topowereight years ago”, said Jessica Rossi after voting for Rosales, who temporarily stepped down as governor of the oil-rich Zulia state to pursue his presidential bid.

Chavez’s vote

President Chavez, 52, voted by noon at a public school in the West of Caracas, an area of slums not far away from the Palace of Government where he is very popular. Chavez arrived in an old red Volkswagen Beetle car dressing a red shirt, black trousers, and white tennis shoes. Hundreds of his followers who were queuing outside the school celebrated his arrival driving his own austere car.

“This is a great day for democracy”, Chavez told reporters after casting his vote. “In the last eight years we have faced a total of four presidential elections, which is enough probe of the dynamism of the Venezuelan democracy”, he added.

“We have received good signs from the opposition about the clearness of the process”, Chavez stated as suggestively remarked that his government had also greeted “a good signal coming from the US administration”. According to the Venezuelan President, the US State Secretary for hemispherical issues, Thomas Shannon, praised the Venezuelan electoral system in what looks like a new approach of Washington to the leftist leader. Chavez’s statement comes a few hours after the interim leader of the Cuban revolution, Raul Castro – brother of ailing Fidel- said that Havana was ready to initiate talks with Washington to discuss bilateral cooperation after decades of antagonism.

After voting, Chavez rushed to the Palace of Government in his own car to wait for the results, which finally came late in theevening. At that time, the President’s rival and leader of the opposition, Manuel Rosales, was voicing delays in the polling stations located in the wealthy eastern area of the capital, the stronghold of the opposition.

“Oddly, these delays only take place in areas where results have historically been adverse to the candidate of the government,'' Rosales said from the western city of Maracaibo, where he voted. Then, Rosales flew back to Caracas to wait for the results in the eastern area of this highly divided city.

Close watching

The election was closely watched by over 200 foreign observers from the Organization of American States, the European Union, Mercosur, and the Atlanta-based Carter Center. The OAS said the voting was "massive and peaceful." To prevent incidents, more than 100,000 troops were dispatched to provide security at 11,000 polling stations.

In an attempt to secure clearness to the vote, Venezuela implemented what many observers regard as the most exhaustive set of electoral safeguards ever seen in Latin America. The new Venezuelan voting system includes fingerprint voter registration, electronic balloting with a paper receipt and on-line transmission of the votes to the National Electoral Council.

Despite the exhaustive procedure, the opposition and even some radical supporters of President Chavez recurrently warned about possible data manipulation by the other side. However, the CNE ruled out any possible interference early in the evening, as soon as polling stations began to close.

Chavez’s new term will be inaugurated on February 2. The reelected leader will visit his ailing friend and comrade, Fidel Castro, in his first official trip after successfully surpassing a new electoral test.

Hernan Etchaleco

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov