Published On: Mon, Dec 17th, 2012

Venezuelans voted heavily for Chávez allies in regional elections

CARACAS – Venezuela’s ruling party had vowed to sweep the nation’s key governors’ race as a tribute to their stricken leader President Hugo Chávez who is convalescing in a Cuban hospital.

On Sunday, it made good on that promise, winning 20 of 23 states and punching into opposition strongholds, according to preliminary results.

“Chavismo, the force of the nation won a crushing majority,” said Jorge Rodriguez, the head of the national campaign for the ruling Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela. “This is a victory for all of Venezuela but particularly a victory for Chávez.”

But there were some bright spots for the battered opposition. Henrique Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state, won reelection in a critical race that may give him a second-shot at leading the country.

After losing the presidential race to Hugo Chávez in October, Capriles had been fighting to keep his job as head of Venezuela’s most populous state and cement his position as standard bearer of the opposition.

Capriles won Miranda with 50 percent of the vote to former Vice President Elías Jaua’s 42 percent, the National Election Council said Sunday.

That race became critical last week, when Chávez traveled to Cuba to undergo a fourth-round of surgery for an undisclosed form of cancer. If he’s unable to assume a new term Jan. 10 — and some in his cabinet have suggested that might be the case — it would trigger elections within 30 days. Capriles’ win likely guarantees him a slot on an eventual ballot, analysts said.

“We survived a tsunami,” said Miguel Pizzaro, 24, a Capriles campaign organizer. “We have to continue working in this fight, the worst thing we can do is belive that it’s not worth continuing.”

Other opposition wins came in Amazonas state and Lara, where Henry Falcón, a one-time Chavista, was reelected.

But the night belonged to Chávez’s followers. In one of the biggest blows to the opposition, the PSUV captured oil–rich Zulia, where Pablo Pérez is governor. Pérez — who was the runner-up in the opposition’s presidential primary in February — was defeated by Francisco Arias Cárdenas, a former military officer who participated in an attempted 1992 coup with Chávez.

The vote comes after Chávez underwent a “complex and difficult” surgery Tuesday and suffered hemorrhaging during the procedure. On Sunday, officials said he was alert and recovering.

Vice President Nicolás Maduro said Chávez had been communicating with his cabinet and was being informed “step by step of everything that is going on both economically and politically.”

“We are not going to let the comandante down,” Maduro said as he urged followers to hit the polls. “Today is a day where the entire nation will ratify its love for the country.”

Maduro’s statements drew rebukes from the election authorities and members of the opposition who said his pro-government speech was in violation of campaign laws.

But officials said Sunday’s vote had been largely peaceful and smooth running. About 53.4 percent of registered voters went to the polls, the CNE said.

The stakes were particularly high for Capriles. Analysts said that if he had lost the governors’ race, he would have also lost his shot at the presidency.

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