CARACAS, Venezuela – Hugo Chavez's hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, won a razor-thin victory in Sunday's special presidential election, edging the opposition's leader by only about 300,000 votes, electoral officials announced.
Maduro's stunningly close victory over Henrique Capriles came after a campaign in which the winner promised to carry on Chavez's self-proclaimed socialist revolution while the challenger's main message was that Chavez's regime put Venezuela on the road to ruin.
Maduro, acting president since Chavez's death, held a double-digit advantage just two weeks ago, but electoral officials said he got just 50.7 percent of the votes to 49.1 percent for Capriles.
Chavistas set off fireworks and blasted car horns as they cruised downtown Caracas in jubilation.
There was no immediate word from the Capriles camp but Maduro addressed a crowd from the presidential palace. He called his victory further proof that Chavez "continues to be invincible, that he continues to win battles."
He said that Capriles had called him before the results were announced to suggest a "pact" and that Maduro refused. There was no immediate word from Capriles.
Maduro, a longtime foreign minister to Chavez, rode a wave of sympathy for the charismatic leader to victory, pinning his hopes on the immense loyalty for his boss among millions of poor beneficiaries of government largesse and the powerful state apparatus that Chavez skillfully consolidated.
Capriles' main campaign weapon was to simply emphasize "the incompetence of the state" in handling the world's largest oil reserves.
Millions of Venezuelans were lifted out of poverty under Chavez, but many also believe his government not only squandered, but plundered, much of the $1 trillion in oil revenues during his tenure.
Venezuelans are afflicted by chronic power outages, crumbling infrastructure, unfinished public works projects, double-digit inflation, food and medicine shortages, and rampant crime – one of the world's highest homicide and kidnapping rates — that the opposition said worsened after Chavez succumbed March 5 to cancer.
That discontent was thick across the nation.
"We can't continue to believe in messiahs," said Jose Romero, a 48-year-old industrial engineer who voted for Capriles in the central city of Valencia. "This country has learned a lot and today we know that one person can't fix everything."
Turnout was 78 percent, down from just over 80 percent in the October election that Chavez won by a nearly 11-point margin.