Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's socialist party won 17 states out of 22 in elections on Sunday but the opposition also won key races, including the mayoral contest in the capital, Caracas.
Candidates from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's socialist party won 17 states out of 22 in local polls seen as a key test for the leftist leader, but the opposition made gains including the Caracas mayor post, results showed early Monday.
A record 65.45 percent of almost 17 million eligible voters went to the polls, said Tibisay Lucena, president of the National Electoral Council.
With 95.67 percent of votes counted nationally, the opposition kept hold of the two states it previously held and won a third, as well as the capital post.
Two more governor posts, including the populous Carabobo state, were not immediately announced.
"The PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) consolidated itself as the main political force in the country," said the party's vice-president Alberto Muller Rojas.
Both sides were expected to claim victory after the polls seen as a key test for the anti-US leader and his drive for nationalization and social projects.
The populist president's Socialist Party had been expected to hold most states and cities, and lose some posts due to protest votes against escalating crime, corruption and inflation.
The total vote was for 22 governors, 328 mayors and 233 heads of regional councils for four year terms.
Chavez, in power for almost 10 years, criss-crossed the oil-rich South American country campaigning for his party's candidates, one year after his defeat in a referendum on extending his authority.
"I'm a fighter. I learned to know how to win and how to lose, and to keep fighting all my life," Chavez said after casting his vote.
Opposition groups joined together to increase their chances for victory, running single candidates in a majority of states and municipalities.
Pre-poll surveys had suggested they could win between five and seven governorships in their bid to gain back lost power and block Chavez's bid to extend his "21st century socialism."
Chavez, a friend to Iran, Russia and Cuba's Fidel Castro, was expected to use the victory as a mandate to push for support to abolish term limits to try to win a third six-year term in 2012.
The 54-year-old led a failed military coup in 1992 and was briefly overthrown for two days in April, 2002.
Famous for his fiery language, Chavez had threatened to imprison opponents, or even send tanks onto the streets if his party lost in Carabobo.
Around 300 candidates, mainly from the opposition, were prevented from running in the elections due to corruption allegations.
Chavez -- who owes much support to the poor he has helped with oil-funded social programs -- vowed Sunday to press ahead with his policies despite tumbling oil prices.
"Nothing will stop ... the building of Venezuela's socialist project," Chavez said. Venezuelan crude prices fell this week to 40.68 dollars per barrel, after floating above 120 dollars in the middle of the year.
In the capital's vast Petare slum, Maria Teresa Padron, 80, voted for a municipal candidate from Chavez's party to show her support for the president.
"God sent us Chavez. No one will give us the well-being this president offers us. No one took us into account before, but thanks to him, I live well now," Padron said.
Another resident, Cesar Alberto, chose an opposition candidate to protest the current mayor.
"The president came to support his candidates but not to see the problems here. There's rubbish, violence and a lack of water," he said, pointing to piles of trash.
Date created : 2008-11-24