CARACAS — Hugo Chavez’s revolution will go on, buoyed for now by a cult of personality that outlived him. Venezuelans elected his handpicked political heir, Nicolas Maduro, to serve the remainder of Chavez’s six-year term as president, officials said late Sunday, and he is expected to continue most of Chavez’s policies.
But there were signs that the strident, Chavez-style anti-American rhetoric that Maduro used during the campaign would now be set aside to improve Venezuela’s strained relations with the United States.
Maduro, the acting president, narrowly defeated Henrique Capriles Radonski, a state governor who ran strongly against Chavez in October.
Election authorities said that with more than 99 percent of the vote counted, Maduro had 50.6 percent to Capriles’s 49.1 percent.
Capriles refused to recognize the results, citing irregularities in the voting and calling for a recount.
The turnout, while strong, appeared to be somewhat below the record levels seen in October, a sign that Maduro may not enjoy the same depth of passionate popular support that Chavez did.
“These are the irreversible results that the Venezuelan people have decided with this electoral process,’’ Tibisay Lucena, the head of the electoral council, said as she read the results on national television shortly before midnight Eastern time.
Tensions had mounted during the evening as the counting proceeded, and both sides held news conferences hinting at favorable results for themselves, setting the stage for a possible fight over the outcome, which was much closer than had been expected.
Venezuela is a major oil supplier to the United States with immense reserves, and under Chavez it has also been a major thorn in Washington’s side, wielding its oil and its diplomatic muscle to oppose US policy everywhere from Cuba to Syria.
Chavez, who died of cancer on March 5, built his political career on flaying the United States and its traditional allies in the Venezuelan establishment, and Maduro followed his mentor’s script throughout the campaign with an acolyte’s zeal.
But over the weekend, with his election victory looking likely, Maduro sent a private signal to Washington that he was ready to turn the page.
Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, who was in Caracas as a representative of the Organization of American States, said in an interview that Maduro called him aside after a meeting of election observers Saturday and asked him to carry a message.
‘‘He said, ‘We want to improve the relationship with the US, regularize the relationship,’ ’’ Richardson said.Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.