Photo: Hugo Chavez Wins Reelection in Venezuela
UPDATE: Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has been declared the winner of the Presidential election by the country’s electoral council. Chavez won a third term defeating Henrique Capriles in an election that saw record turn out. Currently 90 percent of the votes have been tallied and Chavez has garnered more than 54 percent of those vote counted.
ORIGINAL STORY: Venezuelans went to the polls both here and abroad on Sunday in reportedly massive numbers to decide who will govern Venezuela for the next six years on a sunny day marked by both calm and expectation, given that President Hugo Chavez, a leftist firebrand who has been in office for 14 years, was facing a stiff challenge from Henrique Capriles.
The polls were open from 6 a.m. (1030 GMT) to 6 p.m. (2230 GMT), although the National Elections Council, or CNE, said that Venezuelans in line at that later hour who had not yet cast their ballots would be allowed to do so.
Some 19 million people are eligible to vote in the election.
Nearly 100 percent of polling places opened on time and were operating normally, CNE chairwoman Tibisay Lucena said around midday.
“We are opening the precincts, ready for the voters to begin this wonderful day, which is a celebration of democracy,” Lucena told the official VTV network.
The CNE plans to begin releasing results once a clear trend exists as the vote count proceeds, but there is no timeframe for reporting figures.
The release of poll results or exit poll numbers is prohibited until the CNE makes its official announcement.
By all accounts, there was a massive turnout of voters in Caracas and some people had to wait in line for hours to cast their ballots, bringing bottles of water, newspapers to pass the time and even folding chairs to give themselves a more comfortable way to wait their turn to vote.
The good weather - sunny and with a nice breeze in the capital - favored the turnout, and there had been no reports by midday of any violent incidents connected with the balloting and only a few arrests for isolated and relatively minor disorderly acts.
Gen. Willmer Barrientos, in charge of the 139,000 soldiers deployed to guard polling places under the “Plan Republica,” said that three people had been killed in isolated incidents “that have nothing to do with the electoral process.”
In some capital municipalities delays in voting were reported because of problems with the fingerprinting system or faulty voting machines.
Capriles, a 40-year-old attorney, cast his ballot in mid-afternoon in the Caracas municipality of Baruta, where he held the office of mayor on two occasions, surrounded by his supporters.
“The first person I’m going to call upon learning the results is the president of the republic. We Venezuelans are setting an example, and we leaders also have to set an example,” said Capriles at a press conference after casting his ballot, adding that he felt “very moved ... (and) very content.”
And Chavez, 58 and running for reelection for the third time, promised to accept the results of the election “whatever they may be.”
“Don’t you have the slightest doubt that we will recognize the results, whatever they may be, and for that there are precedents,” the president emphasized in remarks to reporters after voting in the western Caracas neighborhood of 23 de Enero.
He also said that “In this world, there are people who believe that I’m a tyrant, that there are no elections here, that all this is a lie,” but he defended the exercise of democracy in Venezuela and invited “whoever wants to see it” to “walk through the streets” of the country.
Chavez, who has undergone several operations and extensive treatment for cancer, is seeking to hold on to power until 2020 and has an approval rating of more than 50 percent with most polls giving him a strong chance of winning.
Under Chavez, Venezuela has gone on a nationalization spree and he has slammed U.S. foreign policy while forging alliances with communist Cuba and Iran, as well as bolstering Venezuela’s ties with Russia and China.
Capriles, known for being conciliatory and a moderate, has been president of the defunct Chamber of Deputies, a mayor and governor of Miranda state, and he has laid out a platform that attempts to distance himself from both radicals of the opposition and the ruling party.
Some 100,495 people are registered to vote abroad, with the largest numbers in the United States and Spain.