Bogota, 21 October 2019 (dpa/MIA) – Bolivian President Evo Morales was leading in the presidential election on Sunday, but was also likely to face challenger Carlos Mesa in a run-off, according to a quick count of more than 80 per cent of ballots by the electoral board.
Leftist Morales took 45.28 per cent of the vote against centre-right candidate Mesa’s 38.16 per cent, according to the quick count.
If definitive results confirm that no candidate got at least 50 per cent of the vote, or 40 per cent with a 10-point lead over second place, 59-year-old Morales and 66-year-old Mesa will face each other in a second round on December 15.
Morales had earlier won three terms in first election rounds.
The Andean country’s first indigenous president, and its longest-serving leader, was seeking a controversial fourth term in office.
Mesa called the results his “unquestionable triumph” and vowed to win in the run-off. Liberal Senator Oscar Ortiz, who was expected to come third, said he would back Mesa in the second round.
But Morales said that after all the rural vote had been counted, he would take a “historic, unforgettable” victory in the first round against “a right wing that wants to return to the past.”
“[We] shall continue with our process of change, we shall still continue,” he said in the presence of dozens of cheering supporters in front of his residence.
As Morales faced accusations of authoritarianism and criticism over devastating forest fires, he lost ground to Mesa, a former president who was forced to resign amid protests over the management of the country’s natural gas resources in 2005.
Electoral authorities said earlier on Sunday that there were no major incidents, though more than 100 people were reported to have been arrested in Santa Cruz de la Sierra in the south-east.
Police said they had consumed alcohol excessively. But the opposition alliance Bolivia Dice No, which had Ortiz as its candidate, accused the authorities of “brutal repression” against its supporters.
Bolivia’s constitution barred Morales from seeking a new term and a 2016 referendum opposed a reform that would have scrapped term limits, but the country’s Constitutional Court and electoral court ruled that denying his candidacy would have violated his human rights.
Morales is credited with bringing economic and political stability to the country of 11 million residents.
He used oil and gas revenue to lower the poverty rate from 60 per cent in 2006 to 35 per cent in 2018, oversaw an economic growth well above the regional average, invested in infrastructure and improved the living conditions and social inclusion of Bolivia’s indigenous people.
The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) puts the number of indigenous people at more than 60 per cent of the population, though there is disagreement on whether they actually constitute a majority.
Morales retains the loyalty of many indigenous and rural voters, but he has also lost popularity over his insistence on staying in power, alleged attempts to control the media and the judiciary, and his support of Venezuela’s internationally isolated government.
More recently, Morales was accused of contributing to wildfires that burned down millions of hectares of forest and grassland by allowing farmers to burn vegetation to clear land as he pushes the expansion of the agricultural frontier.
Mesa attacked Morales over his environmental policies, alleged authoritarianism and Bolivia’s high fiscal deficit.
About 7 million people were eligible to vote, including around 340,000 Bolivians living abroad. In addition to a president, they elected 166 members of Congress.