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Chavez wins Venezuela vote but opposition gains
Mon Nov 24, 2008 1:44am EST
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By Saul Hudson
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's left-wing party won most state races in elections on Sunday, but the opposition scored victories in major power centers to dent his dominance over the OPEC nation.
Chavez's Socialist Party won in 17 of 20 states with another two races too close to call, according to official electoral authority results released early on Monday.
The opposition held onto the two states it won at the last regional elections four years ago and wrested from the government control of the heavily populated state metropolitan area around Caracas as well as the mayoralty of the capital.
The results in Venezuela's remaining two states were due to be announced later on Monday. The opposition candidates in both contests claimed victory.
Sunday's election could make more challenging Chavez's goal of pushing through legal reforms that would allow him to run for reelection, especially after Venezuelans narrowly rejected the move last year in a referendum.
But Chavez, who has been in power almost a decade and is popular for spending freely on the majority poor, claimed victory and vowed to deepen his drive toward socialism despite plummeting income from Venezuela's main export, oil.
Venezuela's political map is still colored the red of his revolution in an election where 65 percent of the electorate voted, the anti-U.S. president said.
"The (revolutionary) flame is stronger today," he said at a news conference at his party's headquarters. "This is a great victory for the party ... The path of building socialism has been endorsed ... and now we will focus on the task of deepening and extending our project."
But Chavez gave a generally subdued speech, in contrast to previous elections when he typically punched the air and shouted victory slogans from his palace balcony in front of thousands of celebrating supporters.
This time fireworks screamed overhead in the capital's upscale areas, marking the opposition's win.
CRIME COSTS CHAVEZ
The opposition, which campaigned by highlighting Chavez's poor record fighting crime and inflation, can point to its gains and will seek to use its momentum in the capital to stifle Chavez's ambitions to run for reelection in 2012.
"The result was sensational for the opposition," said Luis Vicente Leon, director of polling company Datanalisis that works for both sides. "To win Caracas and (the metropolitan state around the capital) is really impressive. It gives them something to celebrate and Chavez will have to chew over how he sells the idea that there is no alternative to his project."
The opposition fended off an aggressive Chavez campaign and retained control of the oil-producing state of Zulia, the country's most populous.
Combined with victories in the capital against veteran Chavez aides, the opposition now holds sway over major urban areas that will be pivotal in future elections. It also held on to the Caribbean tourist island state of Nueva Esparta. Continued...
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