Hugo Chavez told Venezuelan voters that his 14 years in office so far wasn't enough to complete his "Bolivarian revolution." He asked them for another six years in office, and they gave it to him. With 90% of the votes counted, Chavez handily turned back his opponent Henrique Capriles (his strongest challenger so far) by receiving 54% to Capriles's 45%.
As in the past, Chavez relied on his strong support among Venezuela's poor. Over the years, he's used billions of dollars from Venezuela's state-owned oil company for housing, health, food and education programmes, earning the deep gratitude of many in the barrios and impoverished countryside. One "Chavista", Lilian Gonzalez, told the Washington Post the election had been difficult for her because she feared Chavez might lose, and that the country would “go back to the past ... Here, the poorest people now have meals three times a day,” she said.
As Chavez basks in his victory, he faces a changing political landscape. This was his closest race yet, and the opposition candidate ran a focused and articulate campaign. Capriles's pointed criticism of Venezuela's skyrocketing violent crime rate, soaring inflation, crumbling infrastructure and deteriorating foreign relations all took a toll on the president's popularity. Capriles noted his opposition coalition had won the votes of 6 million Venezuelans and said, "We started to build a road and there it is. We have 6 million people who want a new road."
The key questions now is: what impact will this have on Chavez's leadership? Will he maintain a characteristically combative stance, accentuating the deep divisions with Venezuelan society? Or, given the strength of the opposition this time round and the real problems Capriles tapped into, will we see a more conciliatory approach going forward: one which seeks to shore up support by bringing the country together, rather than driving it apart?
Only time will tell.
Read more: The Global Post takes a look at how the Chavez victory could impact Venezuela's relations with the US, as well as around Latin America.
Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Avaaz, Guardian, Global Post