Venezuela’s acting President Nicolas Maduro was declared the winner of the election to succeed his late mentor Hugo Chavez by a razor-thin margin late Sunday, but his rival refused to concede defeat.
The contested result plunged the deeply divided oil-rich South American country into uncertainty, with the heir of Chavez’s socialist revolution declaring victory and opposition leader Henrique Capriles demanding a recount.
“This victory is another tribute to our comandante Hugo Chavez,” the 50-year-old Maduro said in front of cheering supporters at the Miraflores presidential palace, reported AFP.
“Today we can say that we had a fair electoral triumph,” he added, saying he was open to an audit of the close vote tally.
According to the media, Maduro spoke with Capriles by telephone and told his rival he must recognize the outcome of the election. Both candidates had pledged during the campaign to accept the results, AFP said.
But Capriles -- who had accepted defeat when Chavez beat him by 11 points in October polls -- held up a list of some 3,200 “incidents” that took place during the vote.
The National Electoral Council president Tibisay Lucena said these latest results were “irreversible” after 99 percent of electronic votes were counted, with 78 percent turnout.
Named by Chavez as his political heir, Maduro rode a wave of grief for the late leader, who ruled Venezuela for 14 years.
Maduro has vowed to continue the oil-funded policies that cut poverty by almost half to 29 percent through popular health, education and food programs, AFP said.
But Chavez left behind a litany of problems: South America’s highest murder rate, with 16,000 people killed last year, chronic food shortages, high inflation and recurring power outages, according to AFP.
Hundreds of Chavistas began to celebrate in front of the presidential palace well before the results were announced, launching fireworks, dancing and holding pictures of Maduro and Chavez.