Tight race, quick decision prompt uncertainty in Caracas

Venezuela’s electoral council has declared Nicolás Maduro the winner of the nation’s presidential election by a slim margin. But opposition candidate Henrique Capriles is demanding a recount.

National electoral council President Tibisay Lucena announced Maduro’s victory late Sunday with 50.7 percent of the vote, an estimated 235,000 ballots more than opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who garnered 49.1 percent of the vote.

The election official called the narrow margin irrefutable, describing results as the irreversible outcome of the country’s electoral process.

Fireworks resounded throughout the capital as Maduro’s supporters took to the street to celebrate, many of them chanting “Viva Chávez!”

Speaking at a rally, Maduro urged supporters to defend his victory in a peaceful and orderly manner, allowing that he would consider an audit of the vote. If an audit were to indicate defeat by even a single vote, he said, he would immediately concede to Capriles.

“But that is not how it happened,” Maduro said, claiming that he won by 300,000 votes, a decision of the people he urged his opponent to accept.

Maduro has rejected election observers from the Organization of American States. The election council members are Chávez appointees.

In a fiery speech denouncing the results and demanding a recount, Capriles said his team had identified thousands of incidents of electoral fraud or manipulation, and that he said he would not recognize results until each and every vote is counted.

“Maduro and his government are the losers,” Capriles told supporters.

Late president Hugo Chávez, the popular and controversial socialist leader who died from cancer last month, picked Maduro as his successor. The former union leader and vice president has vowed to continue the Chávez policies that cut poverty from 50 to 29 percent with popular health, education and food programs.

Early in the campaign, Maduro held a significant lead in polls, but Capriles narrowed the gap in the final days of the campaign. His strong showing speaks to growing frustration in the country with double-digit inflation and a soaring crime rate.

“I want to say to the government’s candidate, the loser today is you and say that firmly,” said Capriles. “You are the loser. You and your government. I say that with firmness and with all the compromise and transparency. We will not recognize the results until each and every Venezuelan vote, one by one, has been counted. We demand here that the national electoral council open all of the boxes and that each Venezuelan vote be counted.”

Cuban President Raúl Castro was among the first to congratulate Maduro in a statement published in the Communist Party newspaper Granma.

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