Hugo Chavez has won a historic victory in the hotly contested Venezuelan election. With 90% of the ballot tallied Chavez took 54.42% of the vote to 44.97% for opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles.
On a personal level, Hugo Chavez has shown extraordinary courage in facing the rigors of an election while recovering from a serious illness. In addition to being a political triumph, the victory is testament to his belief in his mission. The result gives him a mandate to extend his Bolivarian revolution but it has to be said that over the past few years it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing. In some key respects the Chavez agenda has gone off track.
While the Bolivarian process has achieved a number of important goals in areas such as education, housing, healthcare - unemployment continues to be a challenge. There is an increasing gap between the wealthy and the poor.
There has been a sharp spike in the crime rate and accusations of corruption in inner circles. An affluent class dubbed the bolibourgeoise has grown wealthy on the back of the Bolivarian initiative. The rich continue to get richer. Venezuela's oil wealth drives financial speculation. In this and other respects the capitalist underpinnings of the country remain intact. During the campaign Chavez presented his re-election to the wealthy and middle class as a guarantee of peace and stability in a manner that some viewed as pandering to the right.
In a number of areas the Chavistas have been at loggerheads with workers. There has been an increase in the number of protests - somewhat ironic since one of the claims for the Bolivarian makeover is precisely that it should facilitate worker involvement and oversight. Instead of addressing workers grievances in an equitable fashion a number of protests were slammed as counterrevolutionary. Repressive tendencies have shown themselves in other ways also.
Given the challenges, the election was the best shot the opposition has had to defeat Chavez and they came up short - by some one and a half million votes. The results demonstrate that his appeal is far from waning in an election that saw 80% turnout.
The affection for "comandante-presidente" is clearly heartfelt on the part of his many supporters. Jubilant crowds gathered outside the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas to celebrate Chavez' win. A supporter, Mary Reina, has been quoted by a number of news outlets giving voice to thoughts shared by many Venezuelans: "I'm celebrating with a big heart - Chavez is the hope of the people and of Latin America."
There have been concerns about violence. Defence minister Henry Rangel said that security forces had identified groups that might be a source of possible disturbance, but said that violence was unlikey.
On the eve of the election president Chavez delivered a speech calling for peace and asking all parties to respect the results of the election - you can view it beneath: