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Controversial Election Results Polarize Venezuelans

posted 15 Apr 2013, 08:20 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 15 Apr 2013, 08:20 ]

A narrow win for Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela's presidential election leaves the country steeped in uncertainty, with some crying fraud and others standing by the government.

CARACASVENEZUELA (APRIL 15, 2013) (REUTERS) - Venezuelans appeared polarized on Monday (April 15) after a close presidential election gaveNicolas Maduro the win with a margin of about 1.5 percent.

The streets of Caracas were quiet on Monday morning as residents absorbed the news.

Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver whom Chavez named as his preferred heir before dying from cancer, edged out opposition challenger Henrique Capriles with 50.7 percent of the votes in Sunday's election, according to election board returns.

Capriles took 49.1 percent, just 235,000 fewer ballots.

Capriles, whose strong showing beat most forecasts, refused to recognize the result and said his team had a list of more than 3,000 irregularities ranging from gunshots to the illegal reopening of polling centres.

Opinions were strong among voters.

"This is to me - and if it sends me to jail, I'll say it anyway - they are tyrants. Tyrants to me are people who do not love their people. The other (referring to Hugo Chavez) died - whether wrongly or not - for his people and for his ideals. These don't have ideals. A political ideal is an ideal from a person that gives blood for his land and this person does not give blood for his land. That is all I can say. For me, this is a fraud," said citizen Pedro Valero.

Others, however, saw the election as legitimate.

"The result was good, transparent. It was won by 300,000 votes. It was not like before. But whichever of the two had to win and the defeat is accepted and the victory is accepted also," said voter Hugo Serpa.

Opinion polls had all predicted a comfortable win for Maduro, due to emotion over Chavez's March 5 death and the popularity of his social welfare programs, but they had also shown the gap narrowing fast in the final days.

Even so, the result took most Venezuelans by surprise, and demonstrated that Capriles' message on the campaign trail, where he slammed his rival as an incompetent and poor imitation of Chavez unable to fix the nation's myriad problems, had hit home.

Maduro was unable to match his former boss's charisma and electrifying speeches, but nevertheless benefited from a well-oiled party machine and poor Venezuelans' fears that the opposition might abolish Chavez's slum development projects.

The election board said Maduro's win was "irreversible" and gave no indication of when it might carry out an audit. Critics say four of its five members are openly pro-government.