By NBC News staff and wire reports
CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez scored a comfortable election victory that could extend his rule to 20 years and vowed to deepen his self-styled socialist revolution after a bitterly fought race against a youthful rival who has galvanized Venezuela’s opposition.
Tens of thousands of ecstatic supporters thronged the streets around the presidential palace in downtown Caracas, pumping fists in the air and shouting Chavez’s name after the former soldier beat opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by more than 9 percentage points. However,Â Chavez only got 135,000 more votes this time around than he did six years ago, while the opposition boosted its tally by 1.85 million.
Capriles, a state governor, had accused the flamboyant incumbent of unfairly leveraging to his advantage Venezuela’s oil wealth as well as his near total control of state institutions.
Capriles also narrowed Chavez’s margin of victory to his smallest yet in a presidential contest. With 90 percent of the votes counted, NBC News reported that Chavez had 54 percent of the vote against 45 percent for Capriles. In 2006, Chavez’s margin of victory was 27 points.
The new six-year term will let Chavez consolidate his control over Venezuela’s economy by extending a wave of nationalizations and continue his support for left-wing allies in Latin America and around the world. It alsoÂ cemented Chavez as a dominant figure in modern Latin American history.
“Truthfully, this has been the perfect battle, a democratic battle,” Chavez thundered from the balcony of the presidential palace on Sunday, waving a replica of the sword of independence hero Simon Bolivar.Â “Venezuela will continue along the path of democratic and Bolivarian socialism of the 21st century.”
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