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LA PAZ, Bolivia – Bolivian President Evo Morales on Tuesday, February 23, faced the growing prospect of defeat in a referendum on letting him seek a fourth term in power.
Morales is Bolivia’s first indigenous head of state and has been in power for a decade, thanks in large part to support from indigenous groups and grassroots organizations in one of the Americas’ poorest countries.
He promised to respect the official results of Sunday’s (February 21) vote on whether he can run for re-election to extend his time in office to 19 years. His current term ends in 2020.
The vote count is proceeding slowly.
Partial official results released early Tuesday by the Electoral Board with 71% of votes counted indicated about 56% for “No,” and 44% for “Yes.”
Morales insisted on waiting for full results to trickle in from rural areas where he has strong support, and from abroad.
“We are going to respect the results, whether it be a ‘No’ or a ‘Yes’. We always have respected them. That is democracy,” he told a news conference.
“We are going to wait patiently for the final whistle from the electoral tribunal. We are optimistic.”
Morales, 56, wants to run for another 5-year term when his current one ends. His goal is to continue a socialist program credited with improving the fortunes of poor indigenous groups.
Monday’s numbers were largely in line with exit polls published by private media late Sunday, which indicated Morales lost the vote.
Political scientist Jorge Lazarte said the results confirm the idea that “part of the country… has said enough is enough” and this will force Morales to now seek consensus with the opposition.
With no official outcome, Morales said those distributing non-definitive information on the vote were essentially liars.
“People who use social media to spread lies are making the younger generations lose their values,” the president told reporters.
But opposition groups and individuals against letting him seek another term believe the government may be setting the stage for manipulating the final outcome.
Groups chanting “Fraud! Fraud! Fraud!” staged a sit-in outside the office in La Paz where the count is being done late Monday.
Other opposition figures celebrated their projected victory.
Samuel Doria Medina – defeated twice by Morales in presidential elections – said, “We have recovered democracy and the right to choose.”
The early results “are showing strong support (for Morales) in the provinces, but in the main cities and even in the medium-sized ones, there is a strong ‘No’ vote,” said analyst Jorge Komadina.
However, “the forces of the opposition are scattered” and lack a single leader, he said. “They are a disparate grouping of leaderships and political intentions.”
Morales said he was prepared to give up on a fourth term if voters rejected the bid.
“With my record, I can leave happily and go home content. I would love to be a sports trainer,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais.
Alleging ‘US hoax’
In January, Morales became the longest serving president since Bolivia’s independence from Spain in 1825 – rare in a country that has seen numerous military coups.
He is one of a generation of Latin American leftist leaders who champion “21st-century socialism.”
He has overseen robust economic growth, but opponents accuse him of presiding over corruption and investing in flashy infrastructure projects at the expense of health and education.
Since first taking office, he has been strongly re-elected twice.
Bolivia’s mineral- and gas-rich economy has more than tripled in size during his decade in office.
But his popularity has suffered from allegations that he used his influence in favor of CAMC, a Chinese engineering company that signed contracts worth $576 million with Bolivia.
The president rejected the allegations as “a hoax by the US embassy” to discredit him. He insisted he had “nothing to hide.”
Key ally and embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro echoed the US meddling charge.
Morales “has always won with 60 or 65% of the vote,” Maduro said. “The US Empire is behind this because it wants to destroy every independent, progressive and revolutionary process in Latin America and the Caribbean.”
A defeat could disrupt the remainder of Morales’ mandate by weakening him as leader of his Movement to Socialism party, a grouping of unions and social movements, analysts say.
“These results will probably cause an internal struggle to replace him,” analyst Andres Torres told Agence France-Presse.
“It is very difficult to find a successor with his capacity to unite people in social organizations.” – José Arturo Cárdenas, AFP / Rappler.com