CARACAS, VENEZUELA

- Allies of President Hugo Chavez won a sweeping victory in the country's gubernatorial elections Sunday, capturing at least 19 of 23 states, the country's electoral chief said.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles held on for a re-election win in Miranda state, one of three opposition candidates who had won, according to the preliminary results.

Going into the vote, the opposition had held the governorships in eight states, and it lost in five of those states, according to the results announced by National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena.

Jorge Rodriguez, campaign manager for the pro-Chavez camp, hailed the victory, saying it represented "the map painted red" - the color of Chavez's socialist party.

The vote was the first time in Chavez's nearly 14-year-old presidency that he has been unable to actively campaign. He hasn't spoken publicly since undergoing cancer surgery Tuesday in Cuba.

Despite appeals to vote by both the pro- and anti-Chavez camps, turnout appeared low at many polling stations in Caracas, with few voters in line.

Chavez's party now controls all but four of the states, and this dominance is expected to help the president's allies deepen his socialist policies, including a drive to fortify grass-roots citizen councils that are directly funded by the central government.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro urged supporters on Sunday to vote for Chavez's allies, while opponents called his remarks a violation of electoral rules.

Speaking at a news conference, Maduro implored voters: "let's not make a bad impression with our commander Chavez."

The elections were seen as an important dry run for new presidential elections if cancer cuts short Chavez's presidency.

Chavez is due to be sworn in for another six-year term on Jan. 10. But if his condition forces him to step down, Venezuela's constitution requires that new presidential elections be called promptly and held within 30 days.

Chavez said before undergoing the surgery that if he's unable to continue, Maduro should take his place and run for president.