Venezuela Opposition Candidate Calls For Recount, Protest

Henrique Capriles Radonski

(CNN) — Venezuelan opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski fired another volley Monday in his push to demand a recount in the country’s presidential election.

Authorities should cancel plans to proclaim Hugo Chavez’s handpicked successor the official election winner, Capriles said, and if they don’t, Venezuelans should take to the streets in protest.

“If both sides have said that they want to count vote for vote, what is the rush? What are they hiding? Why do we have to accelerate the process?” he said. “What they want is for the truth not to be known.”

Venezuelan authorities have said Nicolas Maduro will be officially proclaimed the election’s winner Monday afternoon.

The head of Maduro’s campaign accused Capriles of inciting violence.

“This man, Capriles, does not know how to lose,” Jorge Rodriguez, the head of Maduro’s campaign, told reporters Monday.

If Maduro is declared the winner, Capriles called on Venezuelans to bang pots and pans in peaceful protest Monday night, then head to local election offices to demand a recount on Tuesday.

Maduro secured 50.7% of votes in Sunday’s vote, while opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski won 49.1%, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council said.

Venezuela’s top elections official, Tibisay Lucena, called the results “irreversible.”

An hour later, Capriles vowed to contest them.

“I want to tell the candidate of the government: Today you’re the loser and I’m telling you this unequivocally. You are the loser, you and your government,” he said early Monday.

“I say that unequivocally and with all commitment and transparency. We will not recognize any results until each vote of the Venezuelan people has been counted.”

His refusal to concede left key questions about Venezuela’s future unanswered Monday: Will authorities recount the votes? Will political tension in the deeply divided country boil over after the tight race? And will world leaders recognize the results?

The presidents of Argentina, Bolivia and Cuba offered congratulations to Maduro on Monday. But the head of a prominent regional body said he supported a recount. And a White House spokesman pushed for an audit of the results.

“The result as reported is extremely close,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. “The opposition candidate and at least one member of the electoral council have called for an audit, which … in our view, seems like an important and prudent step to take.”

Organization of American States Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza offered the support of the regional body’s election experts for a recount.

“In the context of deep division and political polarization, as this election process showed, the highest representative of the OAS made a fervent call to national dialogue,” the organization said in a statement.

Uncertainty After Tight Race

Maduro told cheering supporters late Sunday that his victory was clear.

“I have won by nearly 300,000 votes,” he said. “It is the decision of the people.”

If votes are recounted, Maduro said, he would have nothing to hide.

“Let them open 100% of the ballot boxes,” he said. “We are not afraid.”

After authorities announced his election win Sunday night, Maduro said he would soon head to Chavez’s tomb to pay his respects.

“Mission accomplished, Commander Chavez,” he said, drawing cheers from the crowd

As fireworks shot out over Caracas, Maduro called on Venezuelans to respect the results and respond peacefully.

“The country’s peace, Venezuela’s future, hinges on whether we can fully know the truth,” Capriles countered early Monday. “I will be waiting. You should decide what door you want to open. We hope that you give us and the country the opportunity to know the truth.”

Sunday’s closely watched election was the second time in just over six months that voters in the South American country cast ballots in a presidential vote.

Chavez, who ruled Venezuela for 14 years, celebrated a triumphant re-election victory in October. After his death on March 5, authorities announced new elections to select his successor.

‘I Am Not Chavez, But I Am His Son’

Maduro, 50, has been Venezuela’s interim leader since Chavez’s death. When he registered to run for the presidency last month, he told supporters, “I am not Chavez, but I am his son.”

They weren’t blood relations, but in one of his last public appearances, Chavez tapped Maduro as his replacement.

“My firm opinion, as clear as the full moon — irrevocable, absolute, total — is … that you elect Nicolas Maduro as president,” Chavez said in December, waving a copy of the Venezuelan Constitution as he spoke. “I ask this of you from my heart. He is one of the young leaders with the greatest ability to continue, if I cannot.”

It was the first time Chavez had named a successor.

His comments dramatically changed the political landscape and became the basis for Maduro’s push to ascend to the presidency after his mentor’s death.

Throughout the campaign, Maduro positioned himself as Chavez’s political heir.

He pledged to continue Chavez’s efforts to build “21st century socialism” and said his campaign platform consisted of following the former president’s plan for the country.

At rallies for Maduro, a recording of Chavez’s voice belting out the national anthem boomed through loudspeakers.

At one campaign event, he told supporters that Chavez appeared to him in the form of a little bird to give him spiritual support.

And Maduro’s official campaign theme song began with a militant drumbeat and Chavez’s voice, endorsing his candidacy.

Campaigns Bracing For A Battle

Capriles, 40, said he was pushing a more moderate approach, promising to continue social programs and improve the country’s economy.

The opposition candidate lost to Chavez in October’s presidential vote, but he came within 10 percentage points of the longtime leader. It was a significant gap, but the closest any opposition candidate ever came to defeating Chavez during his rule.

More than 78% of the 18.9 million Venezuelans registered voted in Sunday’s presidential election, Lucena said.

In Venezuela, elections officials said Sunday evening that the day had proceeded smoothly without major incidents.

Authorities detained 43 people for alleged electoral crimes, Maj. Gen. Wilmer Barrientos told reporters.

As polls were closing Sunday, Twitter accounts for Maduro and his party were apparently hacked with posts denouncing “electoral fraud.” A group calling itself Lulz Security Peru claimed responsibility, while officials from Maduro’s campaign criticized what they said were “dirty tactics.” They blamed right-wing political opponents for the hacking.

Earlier Sunday, both candidates’ campaigns called on Venezuelans to calmly await official results.

But they also appeared to be bracing for a fight.

Opposition leaders decried irregularities long before the official tally was announced, with Maduro’s campaign vowing to defend the outcome.