Chavez Backers Celebrate Win; Opposition 'Stunned'

| Oct. 8, 2012 | Caracas, Venezuela

Published by PBS NewsHour

Larisa Epatko

A climbing murder rate in the capital Caracas and growing discontent with the government didn't keep Hugo Chavez from winning another six years as president Sunday.

Although polls leading into the election showed a close race with his opponent Henrique Capriles, Chavez won a decisive victory with 55 percent of the vote to Capriles' 45 percent with more than 90 percent of votes tallied, according to the Associated Press.

Hoards of Chavez supporters celebrated Sunday night in front of the presidential palace as results showed the socialist leader, who has run the country for 14 years, secured another term.

But some early risers on Monday were "stunned" at Chavez's win and Capriles' loss, said Girish Gupta, GlobalPost's reporter in Caracas. Gupta said while walking around the city, he approached some people who were looking glum. "They were talking about leaving the country," he told us by phone. "They really thought this was it."

Capriles' candidacy had gained traction among Venezuelans seeking a change in government, even in the poor barrios, or neighborhoods, that typically backed Chavez, said Gupta. There's a sense that the government hasn't been doing enough to address a growing crime rate, he said. People feel like "it's a government that hasn't been working."

But Chavez has maintained his popularity. The country's oil boom has allowed him to build free clinics, new housing and provide gas subsidies that make prices at the pump dirt cheap.

The controversial and flamboyant leader is "literally a rock star" in politics, Gupta noted, playing guitar at campaign stops. It was difficult to find someone who could rival his personality, he added, though Capriles of the Justice First party came close.

Chavez's health scare, which included treatment for cancerous tumors, was barely mentioned by either campaign, said Gupta. Even in the opposition, "no one wanted to be the one bringing it up."

But after Chavez's comfortable win, the taboo seemed to have lifted. Gupta pointed out that someone had tweaked the Twitter search term used in the campaign #hayuncamino, or "there is a way", to #hayuncancer, or "there is a cancer".

The question now is whether the 40-year-old Capriles will run again and continue to unify the opposition, or if he will step aside in light of his loss when the opposition again seeks gains in state and municipal elections in December.