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Bolivia's Evo Morales faces tight election race

October 20, 2019

Evo Morales, the longest-serving president in South America, is seeking a controversial fourth term in Bolivia's elections on Sunday. But polls suggest the leftist indigenous leader has a tough fight ahead of him.

Evo Morales
Image: AFP/P. Ugarte

Bolivians voted in key elections on Sunday to decide whether to deliver a fourth term to President Evo Morales.

Since sweeping to power in 2006 with his Movement to Socialism party, the country's first indigenous leader has overseen a period of unprecedented political and economic stability. But his popularity has waned in recent years amid corruption scandals and allegations of authoritarianism.

Although Morales, 59, is projected to win the most votes, he's unlikely to secure a majority — something he comfortably achieved in the previous three general elections. The latest opinion poll suggests he'll get around 32% of the vote, with his closest challenger, Carlos Mesa, on 27%.

Read more: Bolivia's Evo Morales plans lithium mining offensive

Mesa, a 66-year-old journalist and historian who was president from 2003-2005, has campaigned on a platform of boosting environmental protection, strengthening democratic institutions and tackling corruption.

If no candidate gets 40% of the vote with a lead of at least 10 points, the election will go to a second-round runoff on December 15.

Read moreGermany shores up lithium supply with landmark Bolivia deal

Controversial 4th-term bid

Morales, the son of impoverished Aymara shepherds, is the longest-serving president in Bolivia's history. During his 13 years in office, he has used revenue from the Andean country's vast natural resources to fund welfare programs and public works projects and lift millions out of poverty.

However, his decision to run for president a fourth time has sparked protests, with some groups accusing him of moving towards authoritarianism. 

A limit of two consecutive presidential terms is stipulated in Bolivia's 2009 constitution, which was promulgated by Morales himself. In a 2016 referendum, voters rejected his attempt to scrap term limits. The country's top court — seen by critics as being stacked with Morales loyalists — then dismissed the result and ruled that Morales had the right to run again.

Morales has also been criticized over wildfires in August and September that destroyed large tracts of rainforest and grassland. 

Some 7.3 million Bolivians are eligible to vote in Sunday's election. They will also be choosing candidates for the country's 166-seat congress.

Polls opened at 8:00 a.m. local time (1200 GMT) and closed at 4:00 p.m.

nm/tj (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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