The main opposition candidate in Bolivia’s election has conceded defeat to Evo Morales, after the socialist president looked certain to have easily won a third consecutive term in Sunday’s presidential election.
Mr Morales has hailed his landslide victory as a triumph for socialist reforms that have cut poverty and vastly expanded the state’s role in the booming economy.
Official results were slow coming in, but an exit poll and a quick count showed Mr Morales, a former coca grower, trouncing his opponents with about 60 per cent of the vote.
They showed Morales’s Movement towards Socialism winning eight of nine regions, including Santa Cruz, the country’s most affluent region and traditionally the bastion of the opposition.
Mr Morales, who became Bolivia’s first indigenous leader in 2006, will now be able to extend his “indigenous socialism”, under which he has nationalised key industries such as oil and gas to finance welfare programmes and build new roads and schools.
“This was a debate on two models: nationalisation or privatisation. Nationalisation won with more than 60 per cent [support],” Mr Morales told thousands of cheering supporters from the balcony of the presidential palace.
A prominent member of the bloc of socialist and anti-US leaders in Latin America, Mr Morales dedicated his victory to Cuba's former communist leader Fidel Castro. "This win is a triumph for anti-imperialists and anti-colonialists," he said.
His folksy appeal and prudent spending of funds from a natural gas bonanza to finance welfare programmes, roads and schools have earned the 54-year-old wide support in a country long dogged by political instability.
Fireworks exploded over the palace – dubbed the “Burned Palace” in reference to Bolivia’s history of coups – as Morales loyalists chanted “Evo, Evo”.
Cement magnate Samuel Doria Medina, who appeared to have won around 25 per cent of the vote, blamed his third electoral defeat on ex-president Jorge Quiroga, who entered the contest late and who Doria Medina said had split the anti-Morales vote.
It was not clear if Mr Morales’s bloc had obtained the two-thirds of Congress it needs to give the president the full legislative control he is seeking for his third term, which he has pledged will be his last.
Official results were due later yesterday, with electoral officials blaming technical difficulties for delays.
"I voted for Morales," said Flavia Nunez, a 50-year-old office clerk, in central La Paz. "These other right-wing candidates would take us back in time. I don't want that."
Mr Morales’s rivals struggled to match his charisma or offer the Andean country’s six million voters a more compelling vision for the economy, often focusing instead on corruption and the illegal drug trade.
Mr Morales’s campaign billboards ran the slogan “With Evo we’re doing well”.
Voters agreed, giving him another five-year term that means he will remain in office until January 2020. He has delivered economic growth averaging above 5 per cent a year, also winning plaudits from Wall Street for running fiscal surpluses.
He attributed his victory to “management and work” and said he would stick to the same policies. “We will continue with the experience that we have had with the business sector,” he told journalists at the government palace in La Paz yesterday. “Private property will be respected, the constitution says so.”
Under Mr Morales, the number of Bolivians living in extreme poverty has fallen to one in five from more than one-third of the population of 10 million in 2006.
Even so, Bolivia remains one of the poorest countries in the Americas.
Mr Morales’s critics accuse him of using his power to control the courts and of violating the constitution, which limits a president to two consecutive terms. Mr Morales has said he would not run again at the next election in late 2019. –(Reuters)