Populist indigenous leader set for resounding outright majority in first round, extending rule to 2019
LA PAZ, Bolivia (AA) – Bolivia incumbent Evo Morales is set to cruise to a third consecutive victory in Sunday’s presidential election, securing five more years to expand popular social programs.
A rash of closing polls put the leftist leader of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party on 59 percent – a 40-point advantage over nearest contender, Samuel Doria.
Outright victory will extend Morales’ rule to 2019, contentiously making him Bolivia’s longest-serving president in history.
Opponents accuse Morales of defying the constitution, which bans anyone running for a third term, after a constitutional court ruled in his favor last year.
“There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind who’s going to win,” Miguel Centellas, a professor in political science in Jackson State University in Mississippi, who focuses on Bolivia told The Anadolu Agency (AA). “The real question is can he get a two-thirds supra-majority in the legislature.”
87 of Bolivia’s 130 lower house seats could allow Morales to do away with term limits, giving way to indefinite election.
The fragmented four-party opposition has struggled to make inroads with the electorate, splitting the vote to Morales’ advantage.
Nearest rival Doria, a centre-right businessman who brought Burger King to Bolivia, or trailing former president (2001-02), Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga, are considered to not offer clear alternatives.
“The opposition on the right of Morales is so weak, and it’s not that anybody is doing it to them,” said Kathryn Ledebur, of the Cochabamba-based Andean Information Network.
“They haven’t developed the skills, diplomacy or policy generation to convince anyone in the voting public. They are regurgitated, remodelled politicians.”
Morales, 54, a former coca-leaf grower turned country’s first indigenous leader, has presided over a natural gas boom which tripled the economy and slashed poverty by 25 percent.
Known popularly as “Evo”, the Aymara indian has allied himself with other leftists leaders such as Venezuela’s Chavez and Ecuador’s Correa, united in their contempt for the United States and the neoliberal ‘Washington consensus’.
Morales has come under fire for hostility to the opposition and smothering of the press. His party boycotted a presidential debate last month, saying it refused to debate with ‘neoliberals’ opponents.
Today Bolivia’s 6-million electorate will elect 130 deputies and 36 senators by a mixture of first-past-the-post and proportional representation.
Voting is obligatory for those between 18 and 70.
To ensure high turnout, Bolivian electoral law bans alcohol 72 hours before polling, and all transport on election day. On Thursday an act of “electoral silence” began, where further campaigning by candidates is illegal.
To win an election, a candidate must either win an absolute majority of the vote or at least 40 percent with a 10 percent lead over the second candidate.
Election observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) have dismissed accusations of voter fraud after 20,000 deceased persons remained on the electoral register.
OAS president Alvaro Colom said it was “normal” for an election, pointing out Bolivia’s biometric registry used to prevent double-voting.
Morales won 54 percent of the vote in 2005, and increased his share of the polling to 64 percent in 2009.