CARACAS • Venezuela's opposition has won control of Parliament for the first time in 16 years after voters punished the socialist government for an economic crisis and insecurity in the oil-rich nation.
President Nicolas Maduro promptly accepted the defeat, which delivered a blow to the "revolution" of "21st-century socialism" launched by his predecessor Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013.
"We have come with our morals and our ethics to recognise these adverse results, to accept them and to say to our Venezuela that the Constitution and democracy have triumphed," he said.
But he blamed his defeat on a campaign by business leaders and other opponents to sabotage the economy. "The economic war has triumphed today," he said.
Mr Maduro, 53, also called for the opposition to "live together" with his side, a softening of tone from before the polls that seemed aimed at calming tensions.
The result was a triumph for the centre-right opposition, which has struggled for years for a foothold.
The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition won 99 of the 167 seats in the state legislature, National Electoral Council chief Tibisay Lucena announced just after midnight, five hours after polls closed.
Mr Maduro's United Socialist Party won 46 seats in the single-chamber National Assembly, with 22 other seats yet to be confirmed.
Fireworks erupted over the capital Caracas as opposition supporters celebrated.
"Change has begun today in Venezuela," said MUD executive secretary Jesus Torrealba, joining hands with another prominent face in the opposition, Ms Lilian Tintori, whose husband Leopoldo Lopez was jailed last year by Mr Maduro after being convicted of inciting violence in last year's anti-government riots that left 43 dead.
The MUD capitalised on discontent among Venezuela's 29 million people, who suffer the world's highest inflation and product shortages.
"We're going through the worst crisis in our history," Mr Torrealba said. "Venezuela wanted a change and that change came."
Many Venezuelans blame the economic chaos on Mr Maduro, who lacks the charisma and political skills of Mr Chavez. "I used to be a proud Chavista," said Mr Rodrigo Duran, 28. "But how can I carry on when my salary doesn't allow me to feed my children?"
Glum government supporters followed Mr Maduro's lead in accepting the result. "That's democracy," said Ms Gloria Torres, 54. "We're Chavistas and the fight continues."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS