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Chavez Successor Nicolás Maduro Wins Election by Narrow Margin

April 15, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: And now to Venezuela. The South American country voted on Sunday for a new president to succeed the late Hugo Chavez.

And, as Ray Suarez reports, the results were far closer than many expected.

RAY SUAREZ: The streets of Caracas were mostly quiet this morning, as Venezuelans digested the photo finish election and the immediate calls for a recount.

MARGLELIS QUINTERO, Venezuela: The gap was very small. Actually, I was expecting it to be bigger. But, well, the people expressed their will and it was the popular will, so it’s necessary to respect the results.

GILMAR DOMINGUEZ, Venezuela: The difference was very, very little. And it’s possible that there were mistakes during the counting. I agree they should have asked for a recount so we can clear the doubts.

RAY SUAREZ: Venezuela’s electoral authority declared acting President Nicolas Maduro had won by a whisker, with just 50.7 percent of the vote.

TIBISAY LUCENA, Venezuela Electoral Authority: These are the irreversible results that the people of Venezuela have decided with the electoral process.

RAY SUAREZ: Maduro is the handpicked successor of President Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer last month after 14 years in power. Under Chavez, relations with Washington were strained, even as Venezuela became America’s fourth largest supplier of crude oil.

Instead, Chavez transformed his country into a socialist ally of Cuba’s Castro regime. Last night, with the vote in, Maduro told supporters they have done the will of the late leader.

PRESIDENT-ELECT NICOLAS MADURO, Venezuela: Long live Chavez, long live Chavez, long live Chavez, until victory forever. Let’s go to the streets to defend this victory, to defend the triumph in peace, and in order to celebrate with the people and to remember that we have complied with the commander.

RAY SUAREZ: Still, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles said today Maduro’s margin of just 235,000 votes demands a recount.

HENRIQUE CAPRILES RADONSKI, Venezuelan Presidential Candidate: I want to say to the government’s candidate, the loser today is you. And I say that firmly. You are the loser, you and your government. We will not recognize the results until each and every Venezuela vote one by one has been counted.

RAY SUAREZ: Maduro said he’s open to that idea.

And, in Washington, the State Department also endorsed it.

PATRICK VENTRELL, State Department Deputy Spokesman: The results reveal a Venezuelan electorate that is roughly evenly divided. In order to meet all of Venezuelans’ democratic expectations, it makes sense that such a recount should be completed before any additional steps, including official certification of the results, occurs.

RAY SUAREZ: The poor showing for Maduro, who campaigned with all the advantages of government backing, may signal Venezuelans are weary of chronic inflation, shortages of basic goods and high levels of violent crime.