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Hugo Chávez wins Venezuelan presidential election

Chávez, who has led Venezuela for nearly 14 years, won 54.42 percent of the vote against former Miranda Gov. Henrique Capriles last night.

By Jim WyssMcClatchy / October 8, 2012

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez holds the national flag while celebrating from a balcony at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas October 7. Venezuela's socialist President Chavez won re-election in Sunday's vote with 54 percent of the ballot to beat opposition challenger Henrique Capriles.

Tomas Bravo/Reuters

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CARACAS, Venezuela

President Hugo Chávez - the former soldier and Latin American socialist who has led this nation for almost 14 years - won an additional six-year term Sunday night.

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Chávez won 54.42 percent of the vote against former Miranda Gov. Henrique Capriles, the National Election Council, or CNE, reported.

As the results were announced the skies of Caracas lighted up with red fireworks and crowds began to gather at the Miraflores presidential palace.

Authorities said turnout for the vote was 80.94 percent - a decades-long record for this oil-rich nation.

"We have written another brilliant page in our democratic history," CNE President Tibisay Lucena said.

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The results capped a day where many of the country's 19 million registered voters swarmed the polls in a process that was largely free of violence despite the incendiary rhetoric that marked the race.

Chávez, 58, has been in power since 1999 and used the nation's oil wealth to promote socialist reforms and welfare programs that have made him a hero to the poor. He said he would use the additional six years to deepen his "21st Century Socialism" to build more public housing, end unemployment and create 10 new public universities.

Capriles, 40, had pledged to bridge the country's deep ideological divides and roll out Brazilian-style reforms that would jump-start the economy without leaving the poor behind.

Wearing a long-sleeve blue shirt, Chávez cast his vote in the working-class 23 de Enero neighborhood surrounded by family, Cabinet members and international celebrities, including Hollywood's Danny Glover and Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala.

Amid speculation that Chávez  might be reluctant to hand over power, the leader vowed early in the day to respect the outcome.

"Whether it's a one-vote difference or 3 million votes, the responsible political actors must recognize the results," he said. "Also, this is an electoral system that is absolutely transparent."

Minutes later, Capriles cast his vote in the municipality of Baruta, where he was once mayor.

After pushing through a crowd of supporters and showing reporters his "lucky shoes" that have helped him win four consecutive elections, he also vowed to play by the rules.

"What the people say today is a sacred word," Capriles said. "To know how to win, you also have to know how to lose."

The words seemed to have a calming effect on a nation that often fretted that either side might not accept defeat. In the waning days of the campaign, Chávez had gone as far as to suggest that if he were to lose, it might spark a civil war.

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