Morales poised to tighten grip on power after poll

 

BOLIVIA’S FIRST indigenous president Evo Morales is set to further extend his control over the country’s political system following local elections yesterday.

Results are expected to show gains for his indigenous-dominated Movement Towards Socialism (Mas) party in opposition bastions in the lowland, mestizo east of the country.

The vote is the second of three within a year that are set to give Mr Morales the power to deepen his reform drive in one of South America’s poorest and most racially divided countries.

Last December, Mr Morales easily won re-election as the country’s president with his party also taking a huge majority in the national congress, which allows it to change the constitution at will. In yesterday’s vote the party was targeting at least two of the four governorships controlled by the opposition, to go with the four it already has.

A key target of Mr Morales is the department of Tarija, which holds most of Bolivia’s gas reserves and has voted for autonomy in the past. A win there would deny the opposition control of a key region and confine its influence to Santa Cruz, the richest of Bolivia’s nine departments.

This year, a third poll will enable Bolivians to elect judges, which critics say is little more than a ploy by Mr Morales to extend his power over the judiciary.

Bolivia’s opposition has been in disarray since being linked to men who were killed by police in a raid on a hotel in the city of Santa Cruz in April last year. The government said the men, including Irishman Michael Dwyer, were mercenaries planning to assassinate the president as part of a plan to help the richer east of the country secede from the poor western highlands, were Mas draws support from.

In a controversial investigation, which critics say has been politicised, leading opposition figures in the country’s second city of Santa Cruz have been implicated as being behind the plot.

As the country prepared to vote last week, Luis Cruz, president of the main group campaigning for greater autonomy for Santa Cruz, went on hunger strike demanding an end to what he calls “political persecution by the government”.