- (Reuters/Jorge Silva)
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez won his third consecutive six-year term after Sunday's vote, beating out rival Henrique Capriles by more than 9 percentage points and extending his rule to 20 years as leader of the oil-rich South American country.
"Today is a memorable day. I thank God and ask Him life and health to keep serving the Venezuelan people," Chavez, 58, said after his big victory, holding up a replica sword of 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar in celebration. "I congratulate from my heart the more than 8 million Venezuelans who voted for Chavez. More than 8 million compatriots who voted for the revolution, who voted for socialism."
"Thank you, my God. Thanks to everyone. Thanks, my beloved people!!! Viva Venezuela!!!! Viva Bolivar!!!!!" he added on his official Twitter account. Voter turnout was reported at 81 percent, higher than the 75 percent recorded in the last presidential election in 2006.
Chavez's victory was not as comfortable as his 2006 campaign, when his margin of victory was as high as 27 percent, but the newly re-elected leader appeared as confident as ever, promising to keep Venezuela on the path of socialism. He recognized, however, that many in the country who voted against him remain concerned about the future.
"I extend from here my recognition of all who voted against us, recognition of their democratic weight," Chavez noted.
Meanwhile, 40-year old Capriles said in his concession speech that his fight is not over and he remains committed to bridging the gap between the country's differences.
"I will continue working to build one country," Capriles promised supporters. "We have planted many seeds across Venezuela and I know that these seeds are going to produce many trees."
His election campaign had focused on addressing the high rate of crime, both on the streets and in office in terms of corruption, but Chavez's economic policy and promise to keep improving the country's social welfare programs proved more favorable among the people.
In the past couple of years, the Venezuelan president has also had to overcome another serious battle in his life – with cancer. Many times, the president, who is a Roman Catholic, spoke of his reliance on God to help him through the tough times and spare his life as he tried to continue serving his people. He started radiotherapy and surgery in June 2011, and his most recent results earlier this year showed that he was in good condition and the illness had been in remission – allowing him to be in mostly good health in the months leading up to the election.
"Give me your crown, Jesus. Give me your cross, your thorns so that I may bleed. But give me life, because I have more to do for this country and these people. Do not take me yet," Chavez said back in April during an Easter celebration, though since recovering and getting back on the campaign trail he was largely focused on politics rather than his health.
Observers noted that relations between the socialist country and the U.S. are likely to remain on edge. Although Venezuelan oil continues to flow to America, analysts have revealed that production decreased by 30 percent ever since Chavez took office in Feb. 1999.