Chavez allies sweep state elections
Allies of Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, have won a majority in state elections for governors and mayors.With more than 95 per cent of votes counted, Venezuela's electoral agency said Chavez's allies have won 17 states in Sunday's vote.But the opposition has won two of the most populous states and the mayor's post in Caracas.They won in the two most populous states - Miranda and Zulia, as well as Nueva Esparta, Tibisay Lucena, president of the National Electoral Council, said.Turnout was 65.45 per cent of almost 17 million eligible voters, a record for local election in recent years.Chavez has threatened to cut off national funds to states that end up in the hands of opponents.The polls were as a test for him against an energised opposition.Chavez's allies swept the last state elections in 2004, winning all but two of 23 governorships and a majority of local offices. This time, candidates competed for 22 governorships, 330 mayoral posts and other offices.
Chavez remains the country's most popular politician and enjoys overwhelming control of local offices.His popularity has rebounded since he suffered his only electoral defeat in 2007 in a referendum that would have allowed him to seek re-election indefinitely.Pre-election polls showed Chavez's candidates leading in a majority of races [AFP] Still, he faced an opposition buoyed by last year's defeat of his attempt to abolish term limits and by growing discontent over crime, corruption and inflation that have blighted his socialist ambitions.Chavez said the elections could decide "the future of the revolution, the future of socialism and also the future of Hugo Chavez".He is keen to lay the groundwork to extend his rule beyond 2013, when his six-year term ends. But the setbacks in Miranda and Zulia could force him to contend with hostile opponents with revived national clout.Pre-election surveys had correctly shown Chavez's candidates as leading in a majority of races, and the opposition ahead or in tight races in several of Venezuela's most populous states.Power testTeresa Bo, Al Jazeera's correspondent in the capital, Caracas, said: "Everyone is wondering how strong the oppositon is.Chavez's older brother was in a tight race to succeed their father in their home state [AFP]"Chavez feels very popular and people continue to love him. His approval rating is around 60 per cent. The big question is not how many states he'll win, but how many he will lose."Chavez already has a congress filled with supporters and a supreme court that critics say is in his pocket as he tries to hold on to power in state houses and city halls.Candidates included Chavez's older brother Adan, who was in a tight race to succeed their father as governor of Barinas, Chavez's home state.Chavez's ex-wife Marisabel Rodriguez was also on the ballot - on the opposition side.Rodriguez, running for district mayor in her hometown, Barquisimeto, said her campaign may have been local but it was also "against the danger posed to democracy by leaving a single person in power for a long time".
Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, has hailed the victory of his allies in local elections, praising the outcome as a sign of the strength of the country's democratic system."Who can say there's a dictatorship in Venezuela?" Chavez said on Monday."A new stage is beginning. For me, as the leader of the Venezuelan socialist project, the people are telling me: 'Chavez, keep on the same path,'" he said.However, the country's opposition won five states and Caracas, the capital, out of a total of 22 state polls, gaining ground on Chavez's Socialist Party. More than 65 per cent of 17 million eligible voters turned out to vote for governors, mayors and heads of regional councils in Sunday's polls.