As I suggested the other day, it didn’t take long to get a result in Venezuela’s presidential election. But it was certainly close. Nicolás Maduro of the Great Patriotic Pole, Hugo Chávez’s chosen successor, has been declared the victor with 50.7% of the vote.

Centre-right opposition leader Henrique Capriles trailed him by only about 235,000 votes, recording 49.1%. Another five candidates managed roughly a quarter of a per cent between them. (The official website isn’t responding, but various media outlets have the figures.)

That’s a swing to Capriles of about 4.8% since his loss to Chávez just six months ago – quite an impressive achievement, but not enough. AP says that turnout was around 78%.

Maduro is quoted as claiming a “just, legal and constitutional” victory, saying that the result shows Chávez “continues to be invincible, that he continues to win battles.” But he has a less than impressive mandate, and trading on Chávez’s stature isn’t going to be enough for the long term. He will need to develop his own identity if his party is to retain control of the legislature at the 2015 elections.

Capriles, according to the BBC, has refused to concede defeat, saying the result “does not reflect the reality of the country” and demanding a recount. Maduro is said to have agreed to “allow an audit of the election result”, and called (of course) on all Venezuelans to “work together”.

While the result is very close, it’s nowhere near close enough for a recount to make a difference unless there have been systematic irregularities, and no evidence of that has yet been produced. In a way, the very closeness of the result argues against fraud: if you were rigging an election, you would probably build yourself more of a margin for error.

Whatever one’s view of Chávez, it’s encouraging (and perhaps a little surprising) to see that Venezuela has emerged from his 14-year rule as a functioning democracy. Only time will tell whether or not Maduro takes the closeness of this result as a cue to rein in some of the regime’s eccentricities.


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