Hugo Chavez's former vice-president Nicholas Maduro has won a closer-than-expected victory over his opponent in Sunday's presidential election in Venezuela.
According to the country's National Electoral Council, Maduro won took 50.66 percent of the vote and his rival, Henrique Capriles, came closer than most expected with 49.07 percent.
The difference amounts to less than 300,000 votes, but as Capriles refused to acknowledge his defeat, Maduro said he would welcome any recounts or audits requested in order to prove his victory and protect the integrity of the nation's electoral system.
"There should be no doubts about the election results," said Maduro said from the Miraflores presidential palace late on Sunday. "The institutions are functioning. If 7,500,000 Venezuelans said that Nicolas Maduro should be the president of the republic until 2019, this must be respected; the democracy and the power of the majority."
Meeting Capriles' challenge of an audit, Maduro said he would welcome the challenge.
"We are calling for respect of the results. If they want do an audit they are welcome to do it," he said. "They can do whatever audit they want to do. We trust in the Venezuelan electoral system. We welcome an audit."
The Guardian adds on the close nature of the results:
Up until a week ago most polling groups had predicted at least a 14-point margin of victory for Maduro but the gap was said to have narrowed towards the end of the 10-day presidential race.
Analysts attributed this to a frenetic mobilization campaign by Capriles and to Maduro's lack of charisma and often bizarre comments, which included a claim that he was visited by the spirit of Chávez in bird form.
But voter desire for continuity of popular social welfare "missions" and a strong sympathy vote in the wake of Chávez funeral helped to carry the day for Maduro, who has proclaimed himself the "son" of the former president.
On the campaign trail Maduro promised to deepen his predecessor's construction of a socialist model in the oil-rich nation, to hike the minimum wage by 30-40% and to disarm the slums.
Al-Jazeera's Chris Arsenault takes a closer look at Venezuelan elections and the way the nation's internal politics are often misrepresented in the US media:
Venezuela uses automated machines to tabulate votes, rather than hand-written ballots. During the last presidential election in October 2012, the Socialist Party won by more than 10 percentage points.
The Carter Center, an election watchdog led by former US president Jimmy Carter, has praised Venezuela's balloting system. "Of the 92 elections that we've monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world," Carter said last year.
Venezuela's opposition, however, believes the process is organized to favor the ruling party. "The electoral authorities are partisan towards the government," Jorge Millan, a spokesman for the First Justice Party and Capriles' campaign manager in Caracas, told Al Jazeera. "They created new voting booths in certain areas [where government support runs high]. The phone company is owned by the government and it transmits data from the elections."
Electoral authorities scoff at these suggestions. "Henrique Capriles is the current governor of Miranda state," the CNE official told Al Jazeera. "The system is good when you win but not when you lose?"
Al-Jazeera's coverage of Maduro's victory speech:
And this Al-Jazeera segment focuses on Capriles' objections to the results: