President Hugo Chavez put to rest any doubts about his masterful political touch in winning a third consecutive six-year term after a bitterly fought race against a youthful rival who has galvanised Venezuela's opposition.
The state governor who lost Sunday's presidential vote, Henrique Capriles, had accused the flamboyant incumbent of unfairly using Venezuela's oil wealth to finance his campaign as well as flaunting his near-total control of state institutions.
Still, he accepted defeat as Chavez swept to a 10-point victory margin, the smallest yet for him in a presidential race. This time, the former army paratroop commander won 55 per cent of the vote against 45 per cent for Capriles with more than 90 per cent of the vote counted.
Chavez will now have a freer hand to push for an even bigger state role in the economy, as he pledged during the campaign, and to continue populist programmes. He's also likely to further limit dissent and deepen friendships with US rivals.
Chavez spent heavily in the months before the vote, building public housing and bankrolling expanded social programs.
But Shifter also noted the affinity and gratefulness Venezuela's poor feel for Chavez. "Despite his illness, I still think he retains a strong emotional connection with a lot of Venezuelans that I think were not prepared to vote against him."
"They still think that he's trying hard even if he's not delivering what he promised, that he still has their best interests at heart," Shifter said. "That's the political skill that he has. He hasn't lost that touch."
Chavez spoke little during the campaign about his fight with cancer, which since June 2011 has included surgery to remove tumors from his pelvic region as well as chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He has said his most recent tests showed no sign of illness.
Key events in Hugo Chavez's political life:
February 4, 1992 - Army paratrooper Lieutenant Colonel Chavez leads botched coup against President Carlos Andres Perez.
March 26, 1994 - After two years in jail, Chavez and fellow plotters set free when President Rafael Caldera dismisses charges.
December 6, 1998 - Chavez wins presidential election, promising to seek "third way" between socialism and capitalism.
December 15, 1999 - Venezuelans vote to accept a Chavez-backed constitution. It changes the country's name to Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and lengthens presidential term from five years to six.
July 30, 2000 - Elected to new six-year term.
April 11, 2002 - Gunfire erupts as protesters demanding Chavez's resignation march towards presidential palace; 19 people killed. Dissident generals oust Chavez. Interim government throws out constitution.
April 14, 2002 - After huge protests by Chavez supporters, loyal army officers rescue Chavez, restore him to power.
August 15, 2004 - Venezuelans overwhelmingly vote "no" in referendum asking if Chavez should leave office immediately.
December 14, 2004 - Chavez signs agreement with Fidel Castro that evolves into leftist Bolivarian Alliance bloc as other Latin American and Caribbean nations join.
September 7, 2005 - Creates PetroCaribe agreement to sell oil on preferential credit terms to more than a dozen countries.
December 4, 2005 - President's allies win all 167 seats in legislature as opposition parties boycott election.
December 3, 2006 - Re-elected to six-year term, capturing 63 per cent of vote.
December 2, 2007 - Voters reject constitutional amendments proposed by Chavez, setback for his drive to transform Venezuela into socialist state.
February 15, 2009 - Chavez wins referendum that allows him to run for re-election indefinitely and vows to remain in power for at least another decade.
September 27, 2010 - In congressional elections, Chavez's allies lose two-thirds majority that has allowed them to ignore opponents in rewriting fundamental laws and appointing key officials. His allies retain majority.
December 17, 2010 - Outgoing congress grants Chavez power to enact laws by decree for 18 months.
June 10, 2011 - Chavez undergoes surgery in Cuba for pelvic abscess.
February 26, 2012 - Chavez has second operation to remove tumor from same location in pelvic region.
July 9, 2012 - Chavez announces he is "totally free" of cancer.
October 7, 2012 - Chavez wins new six-year term with 55 per cent of vote