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LA PAZ, Bolivia (3rd UPDATE) – Bolivia’s government urged patience Sunday, February 21, following a referendum on President Evo Morales’ bid to seek a fourth term, calling the results a tie and saying it was too early to call.
“We are really talking about a dead heat at the moment. So it would be better to hold your enthusiasm and calmly wait for results,” Vice President Alvaro Garcia told reporters. “All your celebration may well turn into weeping.”
He did not immediately say what percentage of the vote was counted. But he said media projections signaling a no vote had prevailed could well be wrong.
Earlier, local media projected that Bolivians had denied Morales’ bid to seek a fourth term and potentially extend his presidency until 2025.
Voters had their say on a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the president and his vice president seek 5 year terms when their current ones end in 2020. Both have been in power since 2006.
Already the country’s longest serving leader, Morales lost the referendum vote 52.3% to 47.7%, according to unofficial figures cited on private ATB television. Unitel television gave the “no” vote as 51% to 49%.
If confirmed officially, it would be the worst – and first – national political defeat for Morales, who has led the Andean nation for a decade.
It would also be a political earthquake; Morales had said he expected to see 70% in support of his bid.
Voting Sunday was mandatory, and some 6.5 million Bolivians were eligible to cast ballots.
A longer Morales era?
Last month, Morales became the longest serving president since Bolivia’s independence from Spain in 1825 – a rare accomplishment in a country known for military coups and shaky, short-lived governments.
Now 56, Morales is also Bolivia’s first democratically elected president of indigenous heritage.
Morales has overseen robust economic growth in Bolivia, but opponents accuse him of presiding over corruption and investing in flashy infrastructure projects at the expense of health and education.
Since taking office the first time in 2006, Morales has been re-elected twice, most recently in 2014 to a 5-year term that ends in 2020.
Under the current constitution adopted in 2009, sitting presidents can only seek re-election once.
But Bolivia’s Supreme Court ruled that Morales’s first term was exempt from the rule, allowing him to run again in 2014.
Last month, he became the longest serving president.
His politics blend the indigenous power movement with environmentalism and the “21st-century socialism” preached by other Latin American leftist leaders.
He has nationalized the oil, gas, mining and telecommunications sectors and rolled out welfare grants for the elderly, children and expecting mothers.
Bolivia’s mineral- and gas-rich economy has more than tripled in size during his decade in office.
Despite plunging prices for its oil and gas, Bolivia’s economy grew 4.8 percent last year, one of the strongest rates in Latin America.
A close ally of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, Morales tested his luck at a time of disenchantment elsewhere in Latin America with longtime leftist leaders such as Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro; Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff; and Argentina’s now ex-president Cristina Kirchner.
Morales’s most recent, and perhaps most damaging, scandal relates to charges of favoritism shown to CAMC, a Chinese engineering company that won the bid for a major railroad expansion project.
One of the top managers at CAMC’s La Paz office is Gabriela Zapata, 28 – Morales’s former girlfriend.
Morales is single and has recruited his older sister to perform the functions of first lady.
However, he recently admitted to having a child with Zapata during a two-year relationship that began in 2005 when she was 18. Morales said the child later died.
The president rejected corruption allegations as “a hoax by the US embassy” to discredit him, and insists that he has “nothing to hide.”
In an attempt to clear his name, Morales has asked state accounting authorities to investigate the process by which the government signed contracts worth $576 million with CAMC.
Congress has also opened a probe into the allegations. – Raul Burgoa, AFP / Rappler.com