Voting ends in Venezuelan legislative election
Venezuelans voted Sunday in a legislative election that was widely seen as a sort of referendum on left-wing populist President Hugo Chavez and his path to socialism, dpa reported.
Some 17.5 million people were registered to vote the election, which ended without major incidents with the close of polls late Sunday, a bit later than originally scheduled because many Venezuelans were still in line to vote at the official closing time.
Preliminary official results were expected soon after polling stations closed.
"The day went by in an atmosphere of great calm and civic spirit, and it shows what the Venezuelan people are like," National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena said in a message to the nation.
Lucena called on both voters and candidates for the 165 seats in the unicameral National Assembly to await results calmly.
Earlier Sunday, Chavez rallied his supporters.
"From now on, Venezuela's population is starting to write another page of this history," Chavez wrote in his Twitter feed as polls opened. "Charge!"
The opposition has fielded candidates this year - unlike in 2005, when it boycotted the election - in hopes of tapping into Chavez's growing unpopularity, amid rocketing inflation, negative economic growth and rising crime rates.
More than 10 parties are part of the coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, the Table for Democratic Union, and the opposition appears more focussed than ever, fielding consensus candidates.
Their goal is to deny Chavez's Socialist Unity Party absolute dominance in the Assembly.
Opinion polls conducted before the election showed no clear majority for either side.
Chavez wants to come out of the election with two-thirds majority, to guarantee that his most important laws to "intensify socialism" are retained or can be changed to suit him.
He is also preparing for presidential elections in 2012.
Chavez and his red-shirted supporters led massive rallies leading up to the vote, as did the blue-shirted opposition. His approval rate hovers between 42 and 46 per cent. A victory by the opposition would be the most serious defeat during his decade of rule.
The election took place under increased security, with 110,000 soldiers deployed across the country.