Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's effort to scrap presidential term limits could face an increased challenge after the opposition made modest gains in Sunday's local elections.

Venezuela's electoral agency says Mr. Chavez's socialist party won control of 17 of the 22 states, and the opposition won the other five, including the country's two most populous - Miranda and oil-rich Zulia.

The opposition also won the mayor's seat in the capital, Caracas.

Political analysts predict the opposition's improved influence will force Mr. Chavez to use a new strategy to get enough support for a law that would allow him to run for re-election in 2012 and beyond. 

A U.S. State Department spokesman, Robert Wood, commented on the Venezuelan political process Tuesday, saying it was "a good thing" to see Venezuelans express themselves freely in a democratic election.

Voters rejected ending term limits in a referendum last year. Analysts say opposition gains in Sunday's election might further indicate that voters do not want to end the restrictions.

Opposition candidates also won in Maracaibo, Venezuela's second biggest city and in Sucre municipality, once a base of support for Mr. Chavez.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.