CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez won election and a new endorsement of his socialist project Sunday, surviving his closest race yet after a bitter campaign in which the opposition accused him of unfairly using Venezuela’s oil wealth and his near total control of state institutions to his advantage.

A long wait for the results produced high tensions, including a Twitter hashtag called BitingNails that became the most popular in the country. Finally, fireworks exploded over downtown Caracas amid a cacophony of horn-honking by elated Chavez supporters waving flags and jumping for joy outside the presidential palace.With 90 percent of votes counted, Chavez had more than 54 percent of the vote to 45 percent for challenger Henrique Capriles, an athletic 40-year-old former state governor who unified and energized the opposition while barnstorming across the oil-exporting nation.

Chavez rallied thousands of supporters from a balcony of the presidential palace, holding up a sword that once belonged to 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar.”The revolution has triumphed!” Chavez told the crowd, saying his supporters “voted for socialism.”
The crowd responded chanting “Chavez won’t go!”Chavez will now have a freer hand to push for an even bigger state role in the economy and continue populist programs. He pledged before the vote to make a stronger push for socialism in the next term. He’s also likely to further limit dissent and deepen friendships with U.S. rivals.A Capriles victory would have brought a radical foreign policy shift including a halt to preferential oil deals with allies such as Cuba, along with a loosening of state economic controls and an increase in private investment.

It was Chavez’s third re-election in nearly 14 years in office. It was also his smallest victory margin. In 2006, he won by 27 percentage points.”I can’t describe the relief and happiness I feel right now,” said Edgar Gonzalez, a 38-year-old construction worker.He ran through crowds of Chavez supporters packing the streets around the presidential palace wearing a Venezuelan flag as a cape and yelling: “Oh, no! Chavez won’t go!””The revolution will continue, thanks to God and the people of this great country,” said Gonzalez.

Voter turnout was an impressive 81 percent, compared to 75 percent in 2006. Chavez paid close attention to his military-like get-out-the-vote organization at the grass roots, stressing its importance at campaign rallies. Chavez spent heavily in the months before the vote, building public housing and bankrolling expanded social programs.Chavez spoke little during the campaign about his fight with cancer, which since June 2011 has included surgery to remove tumors from his pelvic region as well as chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He has said his most recent tests showed no sign of illness.One pro-Chavez voter, private bodyguard Carlos Julio Silva, said that whatever his faults, Chavez deserved to win for spreading the nation’s oil wealth to the poor with free medical care, public housing and other government programs. The country has the world’s largest proven oil reserves.”There is corruption, there’s plenty of bureaucracy, but the people have never had a leader who cared about this country,” Silva said after voting for Chavez at a school in the Caracas slum of Petare.

At many polling places, voters began lining up hours before polls opened at dawn, some snaking for blocks in the baking Caribbean sun. Some shaded themselves with umbrellas. Vendors grilled meat and some people drank beer.

Associated Press