Evo Morales Wins Landslide Victory in Bolivian Presidential Elections

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

Evo Morales Wins Landslide Victory in Bolivian Presidential Elections

by
Rory Carroll, Latin America correspondent, and Andres Schipani in La Paz

Bolivia's President Evo Morales waves to the crowd during his re-election victory ceremony at the presidential palace in La Paz December 6, 2009. Morales claimed a landslide re-election victory on Sunday as voters backed his left-wing reforms asserting greater state control over the economy and increasing social spending on the poor. (REUTERS/David Mercado)

President Evo Morales won a
landslide victory in Bolivian elections yesterday bolstering his
efforts to empower the country's indigenous majority under a socialist
banner.

Exit polls and an unofficial count gave the country's
first indigenous president an unassailable lead, prompting rival
candidates to concede and supporters to celebrate in the capital La Paz.

"This
process of change has prevailed," Morales told a cheering throng from
the balcony of the presidential palace. He said the result, following a
tumultuous first term that wrought sweeping changes over the Andean
country, was a mandate for further transformation.

Opponents said
the charismatic Aymara leader would become more radical and polarising
and usher in an authoritarian personality cult.

Based on a count
of 91% of votes, the polling firm Equipos-Mori gave Morales 63% of
ballots, way ahead of a crowded field of nine candidates. His Movement
Toward Socialism party won control of both chambers of congress, though
in the lower house it was expected to fall just short of a two-thirds
majority needed for constitutional changes.

Aymara and Quechua
Indians queued from early morning to vote for the former llama herder
who has nationalised key sectors of the economy, boosted social
spending and clashed with the United States.

Bolivia's
transformation was irreversible and redressed a historic injustice,
said Fidel Surco, an indigenous leader and senate candidate for
Morales' Movement Toward Socialism party.

"There is no way back,
this is our time, the awakening of the indigenous people. We'll keep
fighting till the end. Brother Evo Morales still has lots to do, one
cannot think that four years are enough after 500 years of submission
and oppression."

As well as pensions and subsidies to slums and
impoverished rural highlands, the government has championed indigenous
languages and traditional community justice, a "refounding" of the
state cemented in a constitutional overhaul earlier this year.

"The decision is for change," Morales said after voting in the central coca-growing region of Chapare.

Inequality
and poverty remain extreme, and land redistribution has been cautious,
but indigenous voters backed Morales, 50, as an agent of
transformation, said Mario Galindo, an analyst with the CEBEM thinktank.

The
three political parties that ruled Bolivia for decades were all but
wiped out. Within hours of polling stations closing, rival candidates
had accepted defeat.

Manfred Reyes, a former army captain and
state governor, came second with 27%, and Samuel Doria Medina, a cement
magnate, came third with 6%, according to exit polls.

Reyes said
the president would now have no restraint in following his ally,
Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, down the road towards authoritarian ruin.
"What's in play in this election is democracy," he said.

Doria
Medina said the government's apparent economic success masked
unsustainable populism. "The only sector that has had important growth
is the coca sector and the cocaine industry."

Since 2005 GDP in
Bolivia, one of South America's poorest countries, has jumped from $9bn
to $19bn, pushing up per capita income to $1,671. Foreign currency
reserves have soared thanks partly to revenue from the nationalised
energy and mining sectors. The IMF expects the economy to grow 2.8%
next year, stellar by regional standards.

But efforts to tap
lithium deposits and increase gas production have faltered for lack of
foreign investment. Relations with Washington are toxic: the US
ambassador and US anti-narcotic officials were expelled as meddlers and
spies.

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