Mérida and Caracas, 7th October 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelans went to the polls today to elect either President Hugo Chavez or opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski as Venezuela’s president for 2013 – 2019. Voting generally took place in a calm and civic manner with a large turnout expected and the country now awaiting results in the coming hours.
An exercise in democracy
Voters turned up at the country’s 13,810 voting centres from early in the morning, with queues forming before they opened at 6am.
Venezuelans participated in the voting process in a calm and civic manner, with Venezuelanalysis.com journalists in the Caracas and the Andean city of Merida observing voting taking place in good humour and without incident.
Only 15 electoral crimes were reported throughout the country, confirmed Wilmer Barrientos, the commander in charge of Plan Republica, the National Armed Forces security operation for the voting process. These included seven people ripping up their ballot paper and four ingesting it.
At 6.50pm, the president of the National Electoral Council (CNE) Tibisay Lucena congratulated Venezuelans on a “beautiful day (of voting), filled with tranquillity and happiness,” while also confirming that some voting centres remained open past 6pm due to people still queuing to exercise their vote. Results will not be released until the last vote is cast and the total of counted votes gives one candidate an irreversible victory.
Jorge Alvarez, a student in Merida, described the voting experience using Venezuelas automated electoral system upon leaving his voting centre as “excellent, quick, very technologically advanced. I’m totally satisfied…and [also with] the happiness in the street, everything feels good”.
“It went well, it was very fast," said Janzine Marquez,” to VA.com in Caracas, sporting her pinkie dyed in indelible ink after voting, one of the many measures used to ensure a democratic and transparent vote in Venezuela.
Both Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and opposition parties organised to mobilise their voters, with VA.com observing a team of 60 motor bikers transporting Chavez supporters to polling stations in Caracas.
Chavez and opposition supporters also both expressed confidence in victory. Gerardo Lopez, a community leader in the barrio of Pueblo Nuevo, Merida, said, “My prediction, although I do support the current president (Chavez), is that we’re going to win, because there’s a lot of people who believe in this process of change, who have participated in the (social) missions, in various political spheres, and I see that the people are still smiling”.
Meanwhile Ciro Uzcategui, owner of several car dealerships in Merida, stated to VA.com upon voting that “We’re for change, I’m satisfied because we [the opposition] are going to triumph”.
The candidates vote
Hugo Chavez cast his own vote in Manuel Palacios Fajardo High School, in the 23 de Enero barrio, a working class and poorer district of Caracas.
Beforehand, supporters waited excitedly. "I'm waiting for my president," said an older lady, Elda Herndez, to VA.com. "I live here and I'm here to support the president" her granddaughter added.
After casting his vote, Chavez declared "I hope the (electoral) process finishes in peace, and it will be normal... showing our democratic maturity... this process doesn't depend on Chavez, it’s collective, I'm a soldier brought here by a hurricane".
A journalist from newspaper Ultimas Noticias, which is owned by the family of Capriles Radonski, asked Chavez about acceptance of the election result. As the journalist was booed by the crowd, Chavez said “Don't have any doubt that we'll recognise the results, whatever they are... even if the difference is one vote or 3 million, our electoral system is transparent".
Meanwhile, Henrique Capriles voted in Santo Tomás de Villanueva High School in Las Mercedes, an upmarket area of the capital.
He too assured he would recognise the official results announced by the CNE, stating “here there’s going to be a president elect, but not a losing people. Let the people speak and celebrate what they have to celebrate, with respect for each other”.
The announcement of “exit poll” results are not valid in Venezuela and have so far been limited, however there have been reports of opposition sources in the western state of Zulia claiming victory for Capriles.
While some voting stations remain open until the last voter has exercised their suffrage, the majority of Venezuelans are now preparing for the wait until the CNE announces the official results.
For photos from today see here.