BUENOS AIRES — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez won a forth term in a landmark election Sunday that might keep him in power through 2019 — twenty years after he first took office — allowing him to further his goal of turning the South American nation into a socialist state.
With 90 percent of ballots counted, Mr. Chavez led his main challenger, Henrique Capriles Radonski, by more than 1.3 million votes, according to official figures. Mr. Chavez claimed 54.4 percent of the votes, with Mr. Capriles coming at 44.9 percent — a margin the National Electoral Council called “irreversible.”
Turnout among the 18.8 million registered voters was a record 80.9 percent, and long lines required some of the more than 13,000 polling places to remain open hours past their planned 6 p.m. closing. Only minor irregularities were reported.
Mr. Chavez, 58, is expected to continue to push for more state control over the economy, greater limits on dissent and a more antagonistic relationship with the United States.
In a message distributed through Twitter, the president thanked Venezuelans for their support.
Mr. Capriles, 40, had promised a reversal of many of the president’s policies, including loosening government regulations and increasing private investments. He had also pledged to halt preferential oil deals with countries such as Cuba, create 3 million “stable and well-paying” jobs and adopt a zero-tolerance stance toward violent crime.
The former state governor conceded the election after the official numbers were announced but vowed to “keep working for Venezuela.”
“I hope that a movement of 14 years accepts and understands that almost half of the country does not agree with this government,” Mr. Capriles said.
Yorelis Acosta de Oliveira, a political scientist at the Central University of Venezuela, said that the climate had been “one of much anxiousness for all players involved” ahead of the election.
Maria Diaz, a bank employee in Argentina who cast an absentee ballot for Mr. Capriles on Sunday, said she was concerned about possible fraud back home.
“Venezuela has a dictatorship,” she said of Mr. Chavez’s government. “We need a change.”
The failed candidacy of the charismatic Mr. Capriles, who is almost 20 years younger than Mr. Chavez, was only the third major challenge of the president’s rule, after a failed 2002 coup and his recent bout with cancer.
Mr. Chavez accused Mr. Capriles of being “the candidate of the bourgeoisie” and claimed that only he represents the people. He disproved critics who had doubted he was up to the rigors of a campaign after treatment for a tumor extracted in 2011 continued through February.
After his 14-year rule, Mr. Chavez’s legacy already looms as large in Venezuela as his ubiquitous “Made in Socialism” billboards: The ex-paratrooper changed his nation’s constitution, currency, flag and even its name by adding the prefix “Bolivarian” to “Republic of Venezuela.”
Mr. Chavez forged close ties with Cuba, Iran and Russia. Countries across Latin America — notably Ecuador, Bolivia and, to a lesser extent, Argentina — signed on to his economic model. Tensions with the United States have been frequent and colorful, most famously when he labeled then-President George W. Bush “the devil” in 2006 at the United Nations.