Polls have officially closed in Venezuela after a day of high voter turnout in a close race that could give Hugo Chavez another term as president. Chavez and his opponent have both vowed to accept the election results.
Venezuelans continued to wait in line to cast their vote for the country's next president on Sunday after polls had already officially closed at 6 p.m. (22:30 GMT), delaying the highly anticipated conclusion of a close race.
Initial reports indicated that a high percentage of nearly 19 million registered voters turned out on Sunday, but could not give an exact number.
After voting earlier on Sunday, President Hugo Chavez - who has already served 14 years as Venezuela's leader - told reporters he would honor the outcome of the election.
"Whether the difference is one vote or three million votes, the responsible political actors must recognize the results, especially in this completely transparent electoral system," said Chavez.
Chavez' opponent, Henrique Capriles, expressed a similar sentiment to his supporters after casting his vote.
"Whatever the people decide today is sacred," Capriles said. "To know how to win, you have to know how to lose."
Despite both candidates' pledges for fairness, recent political violence had already left the public wary of the consequences of a Chavez loss. On September 29, three supporters of Capriles were shot dead by alleged Chavez loyalists.
Late opinion polls differed in who had the lead in the race for the presidency. Most gave Chavez the edge, but two others said his 40 year old opponent, Henrique Capriles, was the frontrunner.
Preliminary results are expected late Sunday, but official results won't be released until an "irreversible trend" in the votes has been identified.
Chavez fights to hold on to power
Hugo Chavez and his opponent Henrique Capriles - the self-described David fighting Goliath - attacked each other in their campaigns by appealing to the everyday needs of their supporters.
But while Capriles focused on rising crime rights and alleged cronyism in the allocation of state funds, Chavez told voters that Capriles was a right-wing threat who would undo his socialist policies, such as education and health reforms.
The 58-year-old Chavez, who apparently fought off a bout with cancer this year, has nationalized several key industries including the country's crucial oil producer PDVSA. Venezuela has the world's largest crude oil reserves.
The former army officer, mentored by Fidel Castro of Cuba, is among the sharpest critics of the US in South America. In the December 2006 elections, he comfortably won over 60 percent of the vote.
kms/lw (Reuters, AFP, dpa)