The ruling party led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez failed to obtain the two-thirds majority that was their goal in Sunday’s legislative election.

According to the first official results, made public early Monday, some eight hours after polling stations closed, Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won at least 94 seats in the 165—seat unicameral National Assembly.

The opposition coalition Table for Democratic Union got at least 60 seats, with two more going to further opposition candidates and with several seats still undecided.

More importantly for the opposition, however, they claimed 52 per cent of the national popular vote, according to data that were not immediately confirmed by the National Electoral Council.

Sunday’s election was widely seen as a referendum on the populist Chavez and his declared path to socialism, and the popular vote data are particularly relevant since Chavez is seeking re—election in 2012. His popularity has slipped amid rocketing inflation, economic stagnation and rising crime rates.

The opposition fielded candidates this year — unlike in 2005 when it boycotted the election.

“Voting is always worthwhile,” said Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, spokesman for the opposition coalition Table for Democratic Union.

On his Twitter account, Mr. Chavez described the win as “enough to keep deepening Democratic Bolivarian Socialism.” “A new victory for the people,” he tweeted.

Aveledo denounced the “perversion” which allowed the ruling party a large majority of seats despite getting a minotity of the vote.

The preliminary official results had been expected soon after polling stations closed but were not forthcoming for many hours. With electronic voting in place nationally, opposition leaders noted, the delay was “inadmissible.” Still, Aveledo celebrated the election result and described it as “a defeat for those who preach war among Venezuelans.”

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