Indomitable Morales Set to Control Bolivia’s Congress

Exit polls project unassailable lead for leftist president as party nears two-thirds of seats

Published by Anadolu Agency Oct 13

La PAZ, Bolivia (AA) — President Evo Morales was returned to power Sunday in a resounding victory, indicated by exit polls while official results were slowly revealed.

Six in 10 Bolivians backed the country’s first indigenous leader, according to widely cited exit polls by Equipsos Mori and Ipsos, local media reported.

Bolivia’s electoral commission suspended the official count after tallying just 3 percent, but gave no deadline for the promised 70 percent of results by 3 p.m. local time Monday.

The Movement for Socialism (MAS) party leader beat second place finisher Samuel Doria of the Democratic Unity party by 40 points, daily La Razon reported.

MAS’ share of the vote was pared back from a record 64.2 percent in 2009, though it made inroads in the historically hostile eastern departments, clinching dissenting Santa Cruz.

Morales candidacy was controversial with opponents accusing him of violating the constitution, after a court ruled last year that he could run for a third term.

The socialist party was projected to win two-thirds of Congress’ 130 seats and more than 70 percent of the 36 Senate posts, placing no doubt about its authority and ability to pass legislation.

The three remaining parties were set to gain just a tenth of congressional seats despite receiving 15 percent of the vote. Bolivia’s mixed voting system of proportional representation and first-past-the-post tends to punish smaller parties and benefit larger ones.

“For me, the most remarkable thing of the result is that his vote remained relatively stable, but he won more departments,” Miguel Centellas, a professor of political science at Jackson State University in the U.S. state of Mississippi, told The Anadolu Agency.

“His support is declining in his old bases of support at the same rate as it is increasing in others. That means MAS is becoming a more ‘national’ party, with a much more diverse voting coalition.”

In a balcony address to jubilant supporters from the presidential palace in La Paz, flanked by miners, unionists and indigenous people, Morales, 54, said the country was no longer divided.

The “half moon” geographical area of opposition – which saw violent confrontations between government and supporters of autonomy in 2008 – was now a “full moon,” he said.

The eastern departments of Beni, Santa Cruz, Pando and Tarija, objected most to nationalization and redistribution of national gas, with much of the industry based there.

“I hope the president is true to what he said last night,” Isabel Mercardo, deputy director of La Paz daily Pagina Siete told the AA. “It was a moment of unity for the country to move forward.”

After winning office in 2006, the coca-leaf grower turned populist politician nationalized key industries and redistributed wealth, reducing poverty by 25 percent between 2005 and 2011. Morales now presides over a commodity bonanza that has helped triple the economy, but slowing commodity prices and stagnating economies in Argentina and Brazil – key export markets for gas – mean the outlook is uncertain.

“It all depends on economics,” said Jim Shultz, executive director of the Democracy Center based in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

“If the country’s twin money machines continue to flourish – official revenue from gas and oil exports and unofficial revenue from exports to the cocaine market – then president Morales will be able to continue his winning formula of spending on public works.”

But if the economy stutters, support could turn against Morales as high expectations aren’t met, Shultz added.

According to Rafael Loayza, a sociologist and head of the journalism program at Universidad Catolica Boliviana in La Paz, Morales’ re-election had less to do with policies and more with symbolism.

“Eight or nine out of 10 Aymaras or Quechua people voted Evo Morales in 2005, 2008, 2009 and now it’s the same case. Ethic identity has gone ideological. The electorate is choosing identity rather than public policy or any other issue. ”

Loayza also drew attention to so-called restrictions on the freedom of expression as Morales has moved to consolidate power.

“In rational terms Evo Morales’ government wants to be a socialist hegemony and to do that they’re going to keep captive the private media and still prosecute journalists not on their side.”

Morales’ party boycotted a presidential debate with other candidates last month and has been heavily critical of certain media outlets.

Analysts have speculated that Morales, perceived as indispensable in MAS, may seek re-election, or do away with presidential term limits with his majority backing.

But Mercado said she didn’t expect such changes because MAS had a similar concentration of votes in the last government and hadn’t acted as such, but nonetheless, she called on the leader to respect pluralism.

“I hope there’s more unity and that he manages the next five years with more openness in all sectors. Democracy needs such checks and balances,” he said.

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