Venezuela on edge as vote count continues

Tensions heated in Caracas where presidential poll results are too close to call and neither candidate ready to concede.

Last Modified: 15 Apr 2013 03:49
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Venezuelans are anxiously awaiting results of the election to replace late leader Hugo Chavez, with vote counting reportedly still too close to call and both sides expressing confidence of victory .

After a brief and bitter campaign, voters in the divided oil-rich nation waited on Sunday night for electoral authorities to announce the victor in the race between acting President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Henrique Capriles.

An election board source said 98 percent of returns were in, indicating that it was a tight contest.

Al Jazeera's Lucia Newman, reporting from Caracas, said the situation was "extremely tense" and described the hard-fought election as a "nail-biter".

"There is no indication either side is yet willing to concede defeat... There is no idea when the results will come out or if the losing side will accept it."

Jorge Rodriguez, Maduro's campaign leader, said that he could not reveal results before electoral authorities announced them, but hinted Chavez's chosen successor had won.

Leaders of opposition challenger Henrique Capriles' campaign immediately lashed out at Rodriguez's comments.

Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, a Capriles campaign coordinator, suggested that the government was trying to steal the election.

"They are misleading their people and are trying to mislead the people of this country," said Aveledo.

Capriles said there were attempts to let people vote after polling stations closed. Earlier, he accused the government of pressuring civil servants to vote for Maduro.

Maduro inherited Chavez's formidable electoral machinery, which helped the late leader win successive elections in 14 years, with government employees often seen handing campaign pamphlets and attending rallies in groups.

Both candidates had pledged during the campaign to recognise the vote results.

Championing democracy

Capriles hopes discontent over the nation's soaring murder rate, chronic food shortages, high inflation and regular power outages will give him an upset victory.

Maduro, who was accused of exploiting Chavez's death for political gain, awaited the election results in the military barracks where the former army paratrooper was laid to rest.

Capriles voted in an upper-class neighbourhood, kissing a statue of the Virgin Mary after voting and urging Venezuelans to report any election abuses.

"What we want is for this country to have a true democracy, a democracy for all, a country where we can all exercise our rights without the possibility of any reprisal," the 40-year-old state governor said.

Maduro, is widely expected to win the right to complete the new six-year term Chavez won in October, promising to continue oil-funded policies that cut poverty from 50 to 29 percent with popular health, education and food programs.

Both candidates had pledged during the campaign to recognise the vote results.

'Chosen' leader

At the school where Chavez used to vote in the poor January 23 neighbourhood, voters hailed his legacy.

"The commitment to the revolution is very strong," said Denis Oropeza, 33, a museum employee voting there as a truck played a recording of Chavez asking Venezuelans to vote for Maduro before cancer took his life.

Two of Chavez's daughters voted at the school and were applauded by the crowd. People chanted "Chavez lives! The struggle goes on!"

Across town, in a neighbourhood known as a Capriles bastion, voters said they were fed up with violence that left 16,000 people dead last year and a weak economy that has people struggling to find butter and milk in grocery

Chavez named Maduro, a former bus driver and union activist who rose to foreign minister and vice president, as his political heir in December before undergoing a final round of cancer surgery. 

Chavez died on March 5 aged 58.

Maduro and Capriles engaged in an acrimonious campaign marked by insults, government allegations of assassination plots against the acting leader and the virtual beatification of Chavez.

Capriles avoided criticising Chavez, however, pledging to maintain his social "missions."

He lost to Chavez by 11 points in the October 7 presidential election, the opposition's best ever showing against him.


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