A woman casts her vote during state elections, at a polling station in Caracas on December 16, 2012. Venezuelans voted Sunday in state elections overshadowed by President Hugo Chavez's latest and seemingly toughest battle against cancer.
Credit: AFP

Allies of ailing President Hugo Chavez handed him a victory, winning 20 of 23 states in gubernatorial elections on Sunday.

The Associated Press said Chavistas "steamrolled" the opposition, though Henrique Capriles, the opposition's top leader, did manage to win re-election.

The vote, coming less than a week after Chavez underwent a fourth operation for his cancer, was widely seen as a referendum on whether his party's socialist-inspired movement would outlast him, said the AP.

"That was the people's present for their commander, painting the country red," said the Socialist Party's national election coordinator Jorge Rodriguez, according to Reuters.

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Capriles, who lost to Chavez in October's presidential election, said the government had abused state resources and exploited emotions to win the election. "We Venezuelans pray for the president's health, but he is in Cuba and Venezuela's problems need answers," he said, according to Reuters.

Capriles won 52 percent of the vote against 48 percent for former Vice President Elias Jaua, a close Chavez ally. "This consolidates Capriles as maybe the one person that can really confront Chavismo," said David Smilde, a sociologist at the University of Georgia, speaking to Bloomberg from Caracas.

Chavez acknowledged on Dec. 8 that his illness might force him to resign or not take an oath of office for another term. He also named Vice President Nicolas Maduro as his successor, highlighting the severity of his health condition.

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