Hugo Chavez, the incumbent socialist president of Venezuela was re-elected to another term over the weekend.
Although several polls predicted a tight race, Chavez won easily. The National Electoral Council announced that the president had topped his opponent, Henrique Capriles by nearly 10 percentage points. Capriles quickly accepted the result and congratulated Chavez.
The news sparked celebrations across the country for what was an especially sweet victory for Chavez. The president has undergone treatment for cancer and the illness forced him to campaign at half-speed. He also had to win over voters amid rising crime, high inflation and rolling power blackouts.
But many Venezuelans opted to stick with Chavez, who has funneled billions of dollas in oil profits into social programs that cut poverty in half.
“Many people do love him. It’s a fact,” said Max Vasquez, a businessman in the western city of San Cristobal.
He said Chavez draws support from many impoverished Venezuelans who view the president as a surrogate father.
“There are a large number of people in Venezuela who don’t have the father figure in their homes. So that father figure that everyone needs, many of them found it in Chavez," Vasquez said. "The strong person, who has a strong will and a voice of command."
In his victory speech, Chavez said he intends to deepen the country’s socialist revolution.
“Venezuela will never go back to the neo-liberal economic policies of the past,” Chavez told a huge crowd in Caracas. “Venezuela will continue down the path towards 21st century socialism.”
In San Cristobal, the prospect of six more years of Chavez has many in the opposition deeply worried.
“We are going to get more of the same medicine,” said Cesar Perez, governor of the surrounding Tachira state and a fierce Chavez critic. “We will see more authoritarianism, more state intervention in the economy, more human rights violations and more problems for the private sector.”
Still, it’s unclear whether Chavez will be healthy enough to administer that medicine.
Venezuela’s Constitution calls for a new election if a president dies during the first four years of the term. If a president dies during the last two years, the vice president finishes the term, though Chavez has not named a vice president.
Many of the president’s supporters refuse to speculate about a Venezuela without Chavez.
Estrella Uribe, who works for the Chavez campaign in San Cristobal, said Chavez’s desire to help the people has given the president the will to live. She said the people will stick with him until the very end.
For the opposition, there will be little time to lick the wounds from Sunday’s defeat. Over the next six months, Venezuelans will vote for governors and mayors. These elections are important because Chavez loyalists control all branches of the federal government.
Daniel Ceballos, a state lawmaker in Tachira, points out that in past elections, opposition candidates have done well at the state and local level. So, even though Chavez crushed Capriles on Sunday, he said, it’s not the end of the world.