President Hugo Chavez put to rest any doubts about his masterful political touch in winning a third consecutive six-year term after a bitterly fought race against a youthful rival who has galvanized Venezuela's opposition.
The state governor who lost Sunday's presidential vote, Henrique Capriles, had accused the flamboyant incumbent of unfairly using Venezuela's oil wealth to finance his campaign as well as flaunting his near-total control of state institutions.
Still, he accepted defeat as Chavez swept to a 10-point victory margin, though it was his smallest yet in a presidential race.
This time, the former army paratroop commander won 55 percent of the vote against 45 percent for Capriles with more than 90 percent of the vote counted.
Chavez will now have a freer hand to push for an even bigger state role in the economy, as he pledged during the campaign, and to continue populist programs.
He's also likely to further limit dissent and deepen friendships with U.S. rivals.
Chavez spent heavily in the months before the vote, building public housing and bankrolling expanded social programs.
Some say there is an affinity and gratefulness that Venezuela's poor feel for Chavez. "Despite his illness, I still think he retains a strong emotional connection with a lot of Venezuelans that I think were not prepared to vote against him."
Chavez spoke little during the campaign about his fight with cancer, which since June 2011 has included surgery to remove tumors from his pelvic region as well as chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
He has said his most recent tests showed no sign of illness.
Tensions were high Sunday night as announcement of the results were delayed.
Finally, fireworks exploded over downtown Caracas amid a cacophony of horn-honking by elated Chavez supporters waving flags and jumping for joy outside the presidential palace.
Copyright Associated Press
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