Update: HUGO CHAVEZ WINS VENEZUELA RE-ELECTION, ELECTORAL COUNCIL SAYS. Contrary to exit polls as noted earlier, Chavez won 54.4% of the vote, with 90% of the votes counted, and a 80.4% turnout, according to the Electoral Council. At least the local APCs are fully stocked on Whoppers for the next few days.
While the world awaits with bated breath to find out if Hugo Chavez has lost the first "presidential" election in 14 years (an outcome with major implications for the crude market), which according to the latest exit polls he was trailing 48.1% to 51.3% to challenger Henrique Capriles, Diebold post-processing and hanging chad pro forma-ing notwithstanding, the question is what happens if there is a peaceful overthrow at the helm of the Latin American commodities powerhouse. And we use the term "peaceful" loosely: because the twitter stream is currently abuzz with a picture of tanks in Venezuela's capital as seen below. Hopefully they are merely waiting in line at the drive thru for the latest BK value meal and nothing more.
And since everyone knows what Hugo Chavez (who recently took possession of the country's LBMA gold stash, perhaps rather prudently) looks like, here is what Venezuela's next leader may very well look like if Caracas has not figured out how to operate the Diebold machines yet.
More from Reuters.
Venezuela's presidential election looked headed for a close finish on Sunday with Hugo Chavez facing an unprecedented challenge to his socialist rule from a young rival tapping into discontent over crime and cronyism.
An energetic campaign by centrist state governor Henrique Capriles, 40, has united the opposition and turned him into its best chance in 14 years to unseat the popular president and take the reins of South America's leading oil exporter.
Chavez has used record oil revenue to support ideological allies around the world while preaching a fiercely anti-Washington line, so the election is being watched eagerly from the United States to Belarus and Iran.
Polling stations closed at 6 p.m. local time (2230 GMT), except for those that still had voters waiting in line.
Sources on both sides predicted a narrow victory based on their own monitoring. Several unofficial exit polls gave divergent results, but all showed a tight finish.
"I urge the country to be calm and patient," Chavez said in a phone call to his campaign headquarters. "Nobody should succumb to provocations, no violence, let's wait for the result."
Earlier, thousands of supporters lined the streets to welcome Chavez as he arrived at the school in a Caracas hillside slum where he cast his vote. Some handed him flowers, and one elderly woman serenaded the president with a folk song.
In poor neighborhoods where Chavez draws his most fervent following, supporters had blown bugles and trumpets in a predawn wake-up call. As dusk fell, hundreds gathered outside the Miraflores presidential palace, partying in anticipation of their man's victory and a speech later from its balcony.
Crews brought scaffolding for a stage, and revelers set off fireworks.
Despite his remarkable comeback from cancer, Chavez, 58, could not match the energy of his previous campaigns - or the pace set by his 40-year-old basketball-loving opponent.