Morales Proclaims Victory In Bolivia Elections

Official results not yet released but exit polls in Bolivia’s elections show a third consecutive term for incumbent Evo Morales

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Evo Morales declared victory in Sunday’s Bolivian presidential vote, after exit polls indicated a huge victory for the incumbent.

Official results have yet to be released but a national exit poll awarded Morales 60 percent of the vote, paving the way for him to become the country’s longest-serving president.

“We thank the Bolivian people for this triumph,” Morales said from the balcony of the presidential palace to ecstatic followers thronging the capital of La Paz’s main square.

Bolivia’s first indigenous leader dedicated his victory to “all the people of Latin America and the world who fight against capitalism and against imperialism,” and paid tribute to Fidel Castro and the late Hugo Chavez.

Morales, 54, a former coca-leaf grower turned populist politician, has expanded social programs and presided over a commodities boom that has seen Bolivia’s economy triple.

Victory seemed inevitable after polls consistently placed the incumbent and his Movement for Socialism (MAS) party at more than 50 percent of the vote, securing an outright majority.

Polls on the eve of the election predicted a Morales victory with 59 percent of the vote. According to the Ipsos figures, nearest challenger Samuel Doria rose six points in the election, finishing at 25 percent.

Morales said his party made gains in all of Bolivia’s nine regions, and declared the country was no longer a “half moon” but a “full one,” making reference to political divisions which split the country’s middle.

If he governs until the end of his term in 2020, Evo, as he is known, would have ruled for the longest since independence in 1815. But he is accused by critics of consolidating power and smothering the opposition. His candidacy was controversial after the country’s highest court allowed him to run for a third term – barred by the constitution.

MAS’ projected share of the vote put the Socialist party within distance of the two-thirds majority needed in the legislature to alter the constitution.

Analysts say Morales may seek to abolish term limits, paving the way for indefinite election. He is considered to have a strong grip over party members while no clear successor exists.

“Will Evo try to engineer so that he can run for a subsequent term? Everything (for MAS) relies on that, so my guess is he will,” Jim Shultz, executive director of the Democracy Center in Cochabamba, told The Anadolu Agency (AA).

“What holds MAS together is Morales. Without him they’d have a harder time,” said Raul Madrid, a professor of government at the University of Texas.

For supporters who donned the party colors of royal blue and white, and waved flags, Morales was the only choice for Bolivia.

“The whole Bolivian people know that brother Evo has done great work,” Eduardo Sinani told the AA.

“He’s the only president, the best president who’s ever lived. We’re in a process of change, and this process needs not just five years to develop, but until 2025,” he said.

Voting went smoothly Sunday, with electoral observers from the Organization of American States not declaring any major irregularities.

The country’s election authority said it would announce 70 percent of the results Monday after being postponed on Election Day.

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