Chavez cements dominant position

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez pledged to deepen his socialist revolution after a comfortable election victory that could extend his divisive leadership of the Opec nation to two decades.

The new six-year term clears the way for Chavez to consolidate state control over Venezuela’s economy, possibly with more nationalisations, and continue his support for left-wing allies and around the world.

The win cements his status as a dominant figure in modern Latin American history and an icon of the political left. But the slimmer margin of victory — 10 percentage points, down from 25 in 2006 — reflected growing frustration among Venezuelans at day-to-day problems such as crime and blackouts, which Chavez will be pressed to tackle.

Thousands of supporters celebrated around the presidential palace in downtown Caracas after the former soldier was re-elected with 1.5 million more votes than rival Henrique Capriles.

It was a big win for a leader who months ago feared for his life as he battled cancer. Turnout was a record 80% of registered voters, boosting Chavez’s democratic credentials despite critics’ depiction of him as an autocrat who tramples on private enterprise.

Responding to the opposition’s strong showing, Chavez struck a conciliatory note.

“Today we start a new cycle of government, in which we must respond with greater efficacy and efficiency to the needs of our people,” he said. “I promise you I’ll be a better president.”

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