CARACAS, Venezuela — Fighting for his political life, President Hugo Chavez overcame a vigorous challenge by Henrique Capriles in Sunday’s presidential election, receiving another six-year term that will give the populist firebrand the opportunity to complete the consolidation of what he calls 21st century socialism in one of the world’s great oil powers.
The victory, announced by the National Electoral Council late Sunday, gave Chavez the win with 54.4 percent of the vote, while Capriles took 44.9 percent. In winning his fourth presidential election since 1998, Chavez captured just over 7.4 million votes to 6.1 million for his adversary, turning back what had been a determined battle by Capriles, a 40-year-old former governor.
“I congratulate the opposition and the directors of the opposition, because they recognize the victory of the people,” Chavez told throngs of supporters gathered outside the presidential palace. “That’s why I send them this salute and put out my arms to them, because we are all brothers in the fatherland of Bolivar.”
Half an hour later, Capriles conceded at his campaign headquarters. But he signaled that the support of millions of Venezuelans showed that his proposals had struck a chord. And he asked that Chavez, who often mocks his foes as oligarchs and lackeys of U.S. imperialism, take the opposition’s needs into account.
“I’m convinced that this country can be better,” Capriles said in a halting, emotional speech. “Being a good president means working for all Venezuelans.”
Chavez’s victory touched off wild celebrations in the capital, where crowds of the president’s red-shirted supporters — the “Chavistas” from the poorest barrios who have been the backbone of his movement — set off fireworks and blew horns.
“You can’t do better than this president,” said Miguel Guevara, 77, who sells books in the streets and voted in a poor barrio whose support helped bring Chavez to power. “The only one who has helped the country is named Hugo Chavez.”
The president of the electoral council, Tibisay Lucena, said more than 80 percent of the country’s nearly 19 million registered voters participated in the election.
“To the participants who didn’t get victory, consider yourselves victors, too,” she said in making her announcement to loud cheers among Chavez’s supporters. “To participate in an electoral process like this one, in democracy, is a victory for the whole people of Venezuela. The entire country has won.”
Chavez still faces a host of challenges that were highlighted by Capriles’s focused, well-organized campaign, in which the youthful lawyer — known as “Skinny” to his followers — hammered the government daily for the country’s decaying infrastructure, increasing dependence on oil exports and inability to control one of the world’s highest homicide rates.
A largely forgotten topic in recent months that may again become a major issue is the tumor in Chavez’s pelvic region that he has said was removed this year. Although he announced that he was cured after months of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, details about his health remain a state secret.
The president was clearly slowed by the cancer during the campaign, which served to highlight Capriles’s vigor. The man known as El Comandante to his followers appeared bloated, had to walk gingerly and could no longer speak to crowds for hours at a time, as had been his custom.
Carlos Romero, a political analyst here who has closely tracked the election, said that despite Chavez’s victory, his economic model of state interventions has failed. That failure, Romero said, coupled with Chavez’s questionable health, meant that this is likely to be the last major win for the president.
“What I am clear about is that this is the last victory for Chavez,” said Romero, who had predicted Chavez’s victory in the election. “The cycle is closing.”
After coming to prominence in the 1990s after a failed attempt to seize power, Chavez, a former army paratrooper, won a series of elections: referendums that led to a new constitution and ended term limits and a vote that turned back a recall referendum in 2004.
But Chavez lost a 2007 referendum that would have given him a raft of new powers, and the opposition won more votes in elections staged in 2010 for lawmakers in the country’s National Assembly.
Venezuelans flooded polling stations Sunday, each side determined to choose between two starkly different candidates: one who offers a powerful state that nationalizes companies and spends freely on social programs with petrodollars and another who offered a more business-friendly government that would rebuild tattered relations with the United States.