In Doral and Weston, South Florida's Venezuelans loudly celebrated Hugo Chávez's death last month. But it appears his revolution didn't die with him. Chávez's handpicked successor, Nicolás Maduro, has won the keys to the presidency. With 99 percent of the ballots counted last night, Maduro was beating opposition leader Henrique Capriles by a little more than 230,000 votes.
Capriles refused to concede, calling on electoral authorities to count all the paper ballots cast and alleging more than 3,200 irregularities documented by his supporters.
The final results are significantly tighter than nearly anyone predicted, with a razor-thin 1.59 percent margin among nearly 14 million votes cast. But the gap was large enough for Venezuela's election authority to call the race late last night.
A recount seems highly unlikely -- four of the five members of the election council are Chavistas, for one thing. "These are the irreversible results the Venezuelan people have decided with this electoral process," the council's head, Tibisay Lucena, said last night.
Maduro, too, struck a defiant tone in his first speech as president-elect, declaring, "We have a just, legal, constitutional, and popular electoral victory."
But what Maduro clearly doesn't have, unlike his political benefactor Hugo Chávez, is any kind of popular mandate. Chávez's Bolivarian Revolution was fueled by huge electoral wins, giving him the political cover to take ever larger steps toward his belligerent brand of socialism.
Even if he hangs onto the presidency, Maduro -- who critics say also lacks Chávez's charisma -- doesn't have that. Capriles, while calling for a recount, hammered home that fact, declaring, "You're the one who was defeated today -- you and what you represent."
Diosdado Caballo, Maduro's main rival in the party and the head of the National Assembly, also tweeted, "The results oblige us to make a profound self-criticism."
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Watching Maduro take his place in Miraflores Palace is surely a tough pill to swallow for the thousands of Venezuelans in South Florida who bussed all the way to New Orleans to cast a vote in the election.
But they can take some solace that Maduro's task going forward -- trying to continue Chávez's cult of personality without Chávez -- might just be an impossible job.