, CARACAS, Sep 27 – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez\’s party won most seats in key legislative elections, but strong opposition gains robbed him of enough votes to easily pass reforms, electoral officials said Monday.
The leftist president\’s party won at least 94 of the 165 seats in the National Assembly, and the opposition had at least 62, officials said in reporting initial results from a gripping overnight count.
"We have to keep strengthening the (socialist) Revolution!! A new victory for the people. I congratulate everyone," Chavez wrote in his Twitter account.
But the results were set to shake up an assembly Chavez has dominated for the past five years, as the main opposition will return en masse after boycotting the last vote in 2005.
"It\’s been demonstrated that the country has an alternative, formed thanks to the convergence of very different people," said Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, spokesman for an opposition coalition that overcame differences to take on Chavez.
"No one had a full majority, which will force us to negotiate," said Pablo Perez, opposition governor from western Zulia state.
The electoral council did not release full vote numbers but the opposition claimed its candidates had won 52 percent, although it failed to get a majority of seats due to controversial recent changes in voting districts.
Such a result would be a blow for Chavez, two years before presidential elections in the oil-rich nation as he seeks a third six-year term.
More than 66 percent of some 17 million voters turned out in the key vote, as tensions played out on online social networks during the lengthy vote count.
The ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) had sought to win 110 seats, or two thirds of the congress, to keep pushing through reforms under Chavez\’s "socialist revolution."
Chavez, who was welcomed at a hillside slum polling station by cheering, red-clad crowds, dominated the end of campaigning.
In more than a decade of rule, the firebrand leftist leader has nationalized public utilities, key industries and media, as well as launched health clinics and subsidized food programs for the poor. He has also increased pressure on opposition groups and dissidents.
The opposition, which has made repeated attempts to politically unseat Chavez, united this time and kept its campaign focused on issues like Venezuela\’s murder rate, one of the highest in the world, and record inflation.
Tibisay Lucena, president of the electoral council, said the vote had taken place "in an atmosphere of calm and civic-mindedness" without major incidents.
Chavez, a former paratrooper, has lost only one of 14 votes organized by his government.
The 56-year-old is strongly influenced by Communist Cuba and often slams US policy, though the United States remains the main buyer of Venezuelan oil.