Both sides claim victory in Venezuela vote

2010-09-27 09:31

Caracas – President Hugo Chavez’s party had won most seats in key legislative elections in Venezuela, but strong opposition gains robbed him of enough votes to easily pass reforms, electoral officials said today.

The leftist president’s party won at least 94 of the 165 seats in the National Assembly, and the opposition had at least 62, officials said in reporting initial results from a gripping overnight count.

“We have to keep strengthening the (socialist) revolution! A new victory for the people. I congratulate everyone,” Chavez wrote on Twitter.

But the results were set to shake up an assembly Chavez has dominated for the past five years, as the main opposition will return en masse after boycotting the last vote in 2005.

‘We have an alternative’
“It’s been demonstrated that the country has an alternative, thanks to the convergence of very different people,” said Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, spokesperson for an opposition coalition.

The electoral council did not release full vote numbers. The opposition claimed its candidates had won 52% but failed to get a majority of seats due to controversial recent changes in voting districts.

Such a result would be a blow for Chavez, two years before presidential elections in the oil-rich nation, where he seeks a third six-year term.

More than 66% of 17 million voters turned out in the key vote as tensions played out on online social networks during the lengthy vote count.

The ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela had sought to win 110 legislators, or two-thirds of the congress, to keep pushing through reforms under Chavez’s “socialist revolution”.

Chavez, who was welcomed at a hillside slum polling station by cheering, red-clad crowds, dominated the end of campaigning.

In more than a decade of rule, the firebrand leftist leader has nationalised public utilities, key industries and media, and launched health clinics and subsidised food programmes for the poor. He has also increased pressure on opposition groups and dissidents.

The opposition, which has made repeated attempts to politically unseat Chavez, united this time and kept its campaign focused on issues such as Venezuela’s murder rate, one of the highest in the world, and record inflation.

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