Landslide victory as Morales re-elected by 67% of Bolivians

 

BOLIVIAN PRESIDENT Evo Morales was re-elected with a landslide victory on Sunday in a vote that also saw his left-wing party set to dominate the country’s congress as voters backed the socialist programme of their country’s first indigenous leader.

Mr Morales won 67 per cent of the vote, more than double that of his nearest opponent, the right-wing former army captain Manfred Reyes Villa, who took just 27 per cent.

Speaking before jubilant supporters in La Paz after results started to come in, Mr Morales said his socialist project “now is that of the Bolivian people” and that “to have two-thirds of the congress obliges me to accelerate the process of change”.

An Aymara Indian, Mr Morales won massive majorities in those western Andean highlands departments that have large indigenous majorities.

Initial results also indicate his Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party will control over two-thirds of the congress, allowing it to alter the constitution at will.

Mr Morales campaigned on a greater role for the state in the economy and to redistribute more wealth to the country’s poor indigenous majority.

His nationalisation of the country’s gas industry in 2006 was hugely popular, as was a new constitution that entrenched the rights of Bolivia’s indigenous groups who, though they make up the country’s majority, were in the past mostly treated as second-class citizens.

Technically, Sunday’s vote saw Mr Morales win a first term under the country’s new constitution, which gives him the right to run for re-election in five years’ time.

He refused to state during the campaign if he would seek what would be a de-facto third term but esterday ruled it out saying that while he was permitted another mandate under the new constitution, “I never thought of re-election.”

In victory, Mr Morales held out an olive branch to the opposition, with which he has been locked in a bitter, and at times violent, political dispute over greater autonomy for the richer east of the country, inviting them to work with him. “First is Bolivia, ahead of any regional or sectional interest,” he told them.

He did so from a position of strength after even polling strongly in the richer eastern lowland departments where opposition to his rule is mainly located.

Mr Reyes Villa won just 50 per cent of the vote in the opposition stronghold of Santa Cruz department, compared to 43 per cent for the president.

During the campaign, Mr Morales said he planned to overhaul the Bolivian justice system so that Mr Reyes Villa would be sent to jail for misuse of state funds when he was governor of Cochabamba department.

Mr Reyes Villa’s running mate is already in jail awaiting trial for his role in clashes between pro- and anti-Morales supporters in Pando department in 2008 that left several Morales supporters dead.

The opposition said its campaign suffered after the government claimed leading opposition figures in Santa Cruz were linked to a supposed terrorist group plotting to kill Mr Morales.

The group included Irishman Michael Dwyer, who was shot dead with two others by Bolivian police in April.