Hugo Chávez has won his fourth election in Venezuela, earning another six-year term as president. The election, the closest of Chávez's 14 years in power, thwarted the chances of his main rival Henrique Capriles to be the man to replace him.
The result, currently standing at 54.4 per cent to 44.9 per cent with 90 per cent of votes counted, came as a surprise after early exit polls showed Capriles with a commanding 51-48 per cent lead. In the end, however, Chávez came out over 1.3 million votes ahead.
Voter turnout in the election was over 80 per cent, and even the primaries – when Capriles candidacy was confirmed by a broad coalition of anti-Chávez parties – attracted over 3 million votes.
Chávez now has to work to convince the international community of the validity of his re-election, a tricky task given the fact that, for many, the only thing which would prove the elections were held fairly would have been a Capriles victory. But the secretary-general of Capriles' coalition, Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, described them as “free, but not fair”; the allegations aren't of vote-rigging, but of Chavez's dominance making it difficult to compete on an even playing field. The Economist gives one example:
The president frequently commandeers all television channels for broadcasts that can last for hours; election rules limit Mr Capriles to three minutes of pre-recorded campaign broadcasting a day.
For the opposition, the challenge ahead is to maintain the sense of purpose which won them a stable coalition. There are further elections ahead – for state governors in December, and mayors in April – which will require much the same degree of unification if they are to have a chance against the chavista bloc. In addition, Chávez's continued ill-health – the president has had three recent cancer surgeries – presents the very real chance of a second election in short succession.