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Venezuelan Presidential Election Ends


Polls have closed in Venezuela, where voters were deciding whether socialist President Hugo Chavez deserved another six-year term in the oil-rich nation. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Caracas, official results are expected early Monday.

Voters turned out en masse at polling stations across the country. Despite long lines and long waiting times, most voters, like Caracas resident Gaby Prieto, maintained a cheerful attitude.

She said, "I have been here since just after nine o'clock this morning, and I still have not made it inside to vote. But I am calm. The line is slow, but we can withstand the wait a little longer."

The mother of a two- year-old girl, Prieto said she would vote for opposition candidate Manuel Rosales, who temporarily stepped down as governor of petroleum-producing Zulia state to pursue the presidency.

She says, "I think we need a change. The things that are happening in the country are not positive." She says, "Thinking about my daughter's future, I want her to be able to live here in peace. We have to work for a better quality of life."

Across town, in a poorer section of Caracas, retiree Maribel Sanchez proudly displayed a purple ink-stained finger showing she had voted. Sanchez said she cast her ballot for President Chavez, a man she credits with public assistance programs launched by the government in recent years.

She said, "I think we have to be grateful for President Chavez' good heart. First of all, he is a great humanitarian. His concern is always for those who have been cast aside. I am so happy to have him as president. He mobilizes the people."

Aside from delays, relatively few irregularities were reported, as balloting went forward. Most delays were blamed on a fingerprint identity verification system, which created bottlenecks at some locales, and completely froze the lines at others.

After voting in his home state, opposition candidate Rosales denounced some cases where people reported that their vote had not been recorded on a paper receipt, after electronically casting their ballots. He also criticized the fingerprint system.

He said, "The voting process should go faster. People are upset because machines have frozen. These fingerprint machines are useless. They cause anguish, and they disrupt the electoral process."

Information Minister Willian Lara responded to the criticism.

He said, "There are some, who know that they are not favored to win. They are nervous and desperate, and they make unwarranted complaints. But, we have to work together and understand that, in a democracy, we must accept the will of the majority."

President Chavez, who has pledged to continue his so-called "Bolivarian Revolution," if given another term in office, voted in Caracas with little fanfare, and then retired to the presidential palace to await the results. First elected in 1998, he survived a short-lived coup attempt in 2002 as well as a recall referendum in 2004.

More than 70 percent of Venezuela's 16 million eligible voters were expected to cast ballots under the watchful eye of representatives from both candidates, as well as observers from the Organization of American States, the European Union, Mercorsur and the Atlanta-based Carter Center.

Most pre-election polls favored the president, but Rosales predicted that late momentum in the campaign would propel him to victory.