The 50-year-old former bus driver, whom Chávez named as his preferred heir before dying from cancer, edged out opposition challenger Henrique Capriles with 50.7% of the votes in Sunday’s election, according to election board returns. Capriles took 49.1%, a difference of 235,000 ballots.
Capriles, whose strong showing beat most forecasts, refused to recognise 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.
“I didn’t fight against a candidate today, but against the whole abuse of power,” said Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state, demanding a recount. “Mr Maduro, you were the loser ... This system is collapsing, it’s like a castle of sand — touch it and it falls.”
A protracted election dispute could cause instability in a deeply polarised nation with the world’s largest oil reserves.
Though some opposition supporters chanted “fraud”, banged pots and pans and burned tyres in protest, Capriles did not call them onto the streets en masse.
Maduro said he would accept a full recount, even as he insisted his victory was clean and dedicated it to Chávez.
Maduro’s slim victory provides an inauspicious start for the “Chávismo” movement’s transition to a post-Chávez era, and raises the possibility that he could face challenges from rivals within the disparate leftist coalition.
Chávez beat Capriles by 11 percentage points in October, showing how quickly the gap between the two sides has eroded without the larger-than-life presence of the former leader.
The narrow win leaves Maduro with less authority to lead the broad ruling alliance that includes military officers, oil executives and armed slum leaders. It had been held together mainly by Chávez’s iron grip and mesmerising personality.