Hugo Chavez's hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, was declared the winner by less than two percentage points late last night of a brief but bitter campaign to succeed the late Venezuelan president. (The latest available numbers have the final tally at 50.7 percent for Maduro to 49.1 percent for challenger Henrique Capriles.)
Given Chavez's blessing and his position as interim president, Maduro had always been expected to win the special election. But in the weeks that followed the late president's death, challenger Capriles managed to whittle away at Maduro's lead and came remarkably close to pulling off the upset (via the Washington Post):
Polls days before the vote showed Maduro, 50, a former union activist with close connections to the Castro brothers in Cuba, with a double-digit lead over Capriles, 40, a lawyer and governor. Capriles lost to Chavez in an October election, dispatched handily despite a long and hard-fought campaign, and his outlook for victory in the days after Chavez’s death appeared grim. But after running an intense campaign, Capriles closed the gap in recent days — leading to a near tie that the opposition may end up contesting.
Indeed, Capriles quickly suggested after the race was called that he would demand a recount, something that in Reuters' words "could cause instability in a deeply polarized nation with the world's largest oil reserves." Maduro suggested that he would accept a recount, however the election board declared the win "irreversible," making the prospects of one uncertain. The two men's final tallies were separated by only 235,000-odd ballots.