Chavez allies sweep Venezuela gubernatorial vote
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- President Hugo Chavez's allies won a sweeping victory in Venezuela's gubernatorial elections Sunday, capturing a large majority of states and showing their socialist party still has muscle even as cancer has put the future of the country's leader in question.
The ruling party won at least 19 of 23 states, according to preliminary results. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles held on for a re-election win in Miranda state, one of three opposition candidates declared winners.
Capriles lost to Chavez in the country's October election, and his re-election Sunday will allow him to cement his position as Venezuela's dominant opposition leader, even as other opposition candidates floundered. But the loss of ground by the opposition also raises tough questions for government adversaries as they prepare for the possibility of new presidential elections if cancer cuts short Chavez's tenure.
Going into the vote, the opposition had held the governorships in eight states, and it lost in five of those states according to the results announced by National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena.
Jorge Rodriguez, campaign manager for the pro-Chavez camp, hailed the victory saying it represented "the map painted red" -- the color of Chavez's socialist party.
The 53 percent voter turnout was considerably lower than the more than 80 percent who cast ballots in October's presidential vote, when Chavez won another six-year term.
The vote was the first time in Chavez's nearly 14-year-old presidency that he has been unable to actively campaign. He hasn't spoken publicly since undergoing cancer surgery on Tuesday in Cuba.
The strong showing by pro-Chavez candidates could help them deepen his socialist policies, including a drive to fortify grass-roots citizen councils that are directly funded by the central government.
Capriles beat Elias Jaua, Chavez's former vice president, to win Miranda state, which includes part of the capital of Caracas. His supporters celebrated shouting with their hands in the air while fireworks exploded overhead.
There were some complaints of improper campaigning during the vote. While voting was under way, Vice President Nicolas Maduro urged supporters to vote for Chavez's allies, while opponents called his remarks a violation of electoral rules.
Speaking at a news conference, Maduro implored voters: "Let's not fail Chavez." He addressed those who hadn't cast ballots yet, saying "let's not make a bad impression with our commander Chavez."
Opposition leader Ramon Guillermo Aveledo said his remarks violated a prohibition on campaigning on election day, and called for the National Electoral Council to take action. Vicente Diaz, a member of the council, called Maduro's comments inappropriate and he would take up the matter with the council.