CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chávez won reelection by a wide margin yesterday, giving the firebrand leftist six more years to redistribute Venezuela's vast oil wealth to the poor and press his campaign to counter US influence in Latin America and beyond.
The challenger, Manuel Rosales, conceded defeat but vowed to remain in opposition. During the campaign, Rosales accused Chávez of edging Venezuela toward authoritarian rule and warned the president could undertake more radical policies if reelected.
Minutes after the results were announced, Chávez appeared on the balcony of the presidential palace singing the national anthem. He pledged to deepen his effort to transform Venezuela into a socialist society.
"Long live the socialist revolution! Destiny has been written," Chávez shouted to thousands of flag-waving supporters wearing red shirts and braving a pouring rain.
"That new era has begun," he said, raising a hand in the air. "We have shown that Venezuela is red! . . . No one should fear socialism . . . Socialism is human. Socialism is love," Chávez said. "Down with imperialism! We need a new world!"
Since he first won office in 1998, Chávez has increasingly dominated all branches of government and his allies now control congress, state offices and the judiciary. He has called President Bush the devil, allied himself with Iran, and influenced elections across the region.
Chávez also has used Venezuela's oil wealth to his political advantage. He has channeled oil profits toward multibillion-dollar programs for the poor, including subsidized food, free university education, and cash benefits for single mothers. He has also helped allies from Cuba to Bolivia with funds from oil.
He now promises to solidify his social program.
With 78 percent of voting stations reporting, Chávez had 61 percent to 38 percent for Rosales, said Tibisay Lucena, head of the country's Elections Council.
Chávez had nearly 6 million votes versus 3.7 million for Rosales, according to the partial tally.
Turnout among the 15.9 million eligible voters was 62 percent, according to an official bulletin of results, making Chávez's lead insurmountable.
"We will continue in this struggle," Rosales told cheering supporters as he conceded defeat.
Some supporters at his campaign headquarters wept, while others were angry.
"We have to do something," said Dona Bavaro, 36, a supporter of Rosales. "My country is being stolen. This is the last chance we have. Communism is coming here."
Rosales, a cattle rancher and governor of western Zulia state who stepped down temporarily to run against Chávez, focused his campaign on issues such as rampant crime and corruption, seen as Chávez's main vulnerabilities.
A top Rosales adviser, Teodoro Petkoff, said the voting was carried out in a "satisfactory manner." Another member of the Rosales camp had accused Chávez supporters of reopening polling stations and busing voters to them.
Even before polls closed, Chávez supporters celebrated in the streets, setting off fireworks and cruising Caracas honking horns and shouting "Chávez isn't going anywhere!"
Rosales supporters accused Chávez of deepening class divisions with searing rhetoric.
Alicia Primera, a 54-year-old housewife, was among voters so passionate about the choice that they camped out overnight in voting queues.
"I voted for Chávez previously. I cried for him," Primera said. "Now I'm crying for him to leave."