CARACAS -- President Hugo Chávez one of Latin Americas most controversial and charismatic leaders won a hotly contested presidential election Sunday, allowing him to deepen his 21st Century Socialism in the oil-rich nation through 2019.
With 90 percent of the vote counted, Chávez won 54.4 percent of the vote while former Miranda Gov. Henrique Capriles, his main rival, received 44.9 percent, according to partial tallies announced late Sunday by the National Electoral Council or CNE.
As the results were announced, the skies over Caracas lit up with red fireworks and crowds began to gather at the Miraflores presidential palace. Wearing a red shirt and jacket, Chávez led the masses in a rendition of the national anthem and thanked the voters for going to the polls without stirring up violence. He also congratulated the opposition for pledging to abide by the results.
It was a perfect battle, he said of his campaign. It was a democratic battle.
The vote was a civic victory for the country, as 81 percent of its 19 million registered voters went to the polls. Despite fears that the incendiary rhetoric that marked the race might spill over into election day, voting was largely peaceful.
Chávez, 58, has been in power since 1999 and used the nations vast oil wealth to promote socialist reforms and welfare programs that have made him a hero to the poor. Hes vowed to use the additional six years to build more public housing, end unemployment and create 10 new public universities.
Capriles, 40, had pledged to roll out Brazilian-style reforms that would jump-start the economy without leaving the poor behind. His calls for political reconciliation as he barnstormed the nation struck a chord in this divided country.
In his concession speech, Capriles congratulated the president and thanked the 6 million people who voted for him. He also said he would keep working for the country.
I hope he [Chávez] understands the message of the people, he said. We are in a country that has two visions. And to be a good president, you have to work for all Venezuelans.
Capriles said he didnt intend to contest the outcome.
Venezuela hasnt invited international observers to watch its elections since 2006, although it does allow witnesses to the process. Even so, neither campaign raised alarms throughout the day and the local watchdog group, the Venezuelan Election Observer, said its general impression was that the election process has been normal and tranquil.
Chávezs victory lap is likely to be short-lived as speculation is bound to re-focus on the undisclosed form of cancer that he claims to have beaten earlier this year but seemed to dampen his campaigning.
Asked on Sunday if he had any succession plans, Chávez dodged the question.
This process no longer depends on Chávez, its a collective, he said.
Earlier, Chávez cast his vote in the working-class 23 de Enero neighborhood surrounded by family, cabinet members and international celebrities, including Hollywoods Danny Glover and Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú of Guatemala.
Minutes later, Capriles cast his vote in the municipality of Baruta, where he was once mayor.
After pushing through a crowd of supporters and showing reporters his lucky shoes that had helped him win four consecutives, he vowed to play by the rules.