CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan interim President Nicolas Maduro won a narrow victory over Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles on Sunday to succeed late President Hugo Chavez, according to the National Electoral Council.
Maduro, Chavez’s handpicked successor, won the presidential election with a 235,000-vote margin with nearly 15 million votes cast, much less than the 1.5-million vote margin that Chavez won in October. Chavez died of cancer March 5.
Speaking at Miraflores presidential palace, Maduro called on Capriles to cooperate in building peace in the highly divided country.
“I call on those who voted against to work for union, to work together,” Maduro said.
On a picture-perfect spring day in the capital, Caracas, voters flocked to polling places to cast ballots that would determine whether Venezuela would continue down the leftist trail blazed by Chavez or take a more conservative path offered by Capriles.
Turnout was light early in the day, but turned heavier in the afternoon. There were no significant problems reported and some voters commented on the relative efficiency of the process.
Loudspeakers mounted on speeding cars and pickup trucks were carried through the streets of the poor barrios in Caracas playing reveille, a signal for Chavistas to get out and vote for Maduro. The interim president cast his vote at a school in the Catia slum, while Capriles voted in the upscale Mercedes section of the capital.
“I voted for him, the Big Guy, for my father,” Maduro said, referring to Chavez, as he left the polling station accompanied by his wife, Cilia Flores, who is Venezuela’s attorney general. “My soul is at rest.”
Maduro promised that, if he won, he was prepared to reestablish relations with the United States “in terms of equality and respect.” Relations between the two countries have been strained for years, and they have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010.
But Maduro wasn’t quite ready to back down.
“There are always problems because they are always conspiring,” Maduro said in reference to the United States, adding that he had new evidence of a U.S.-sponsored plot to destabilize the country, details of which he would announce at a news conference Monday.
During the campaign, Maduro had accused the U.S. of conspiring with opposition labor unions and of causing power blackouts. He expelled two U.S. military attaches last month.
After Capriles voted, he told reporters he was running to vanquish alleged abuses by the government in the electoral process. Among other things, Capriles has criticized the defense minister, Adm. Diego Molero, for endorsing Maduro and the socialist revolution.
Opinion polls showed Maduro in the lead heading into the election, but Capriles closing the gap. The challenger’s success was attributed, in part, to a much more aggressive stump style during the abbreviated campaign leading up to Sunday’s snap election than in his losing effort against Chavez in October. Then, Capriles lost to Chavez by 11 percentage points.
Maduro was also thought to be vulnerable because of homicide rates that have quadrupled since 1999, as well as double-digit inflation and scarcities of foodstuffs.