Caracas: Hugo Chavez's supporters dedicated their sweeping regional election win to the absent Venezuelan president and turned attention back yesterday to his fight to recover from cancer surgery in Cuba.
Helped by sympathy for Chavez, the ruling Socialist Party swept the board in Sunday's vote, winning 20 out of 23 state governorships in the South American Opec nation.
"That was the people's present for their commander, painting the country red," said the party's national election coordinator Jorge Rodriguez.
Government candidates cut the opposition's previous control of seven states to just three — but there was some compensation for the anti-Chavez bloc in its standard-bearer Henrique Capriles' retention of Miranda governorship.
That left Capriles, a 40-year-old career politician and lawyer by training, as the opposition's clear candidate-in-waiting should Chavez's condition spark a new election.
Though celebrating his Miranda win, Capriles acknowledged the overall national results were bad for the opposition.
He accused the government of abusing state resources and exploiting emotions over Chavez's health during the campaign.
"We Venezuelans pray for the president's health, but he is in Cuba and Venezuela's problems need answers," Capriles added, criticizing high crime and jobless rates. In office since 1999, Chavez is due to start a new term on January 10 after beating Capriles in October's presidential vote.
But he has named a successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, in case he is incapacitated, a scenario that would trigger a new poll within 30 days in the nation of 29 million people.