Evo Morales election win ‘almost guaranteed’ in Bolivia

Voting is mandatory for Bolivia’s roughly six million voters

Bolivia’s president Evo Morales speaks during a closing ceremony of his presidential election campaign. The Bolivian presidential election takes place today.  Photograph: David Mercado/Reuters

Bolivia’s president Evo Morales speaks during a closing ceremony of his presidential election campaign. The Bolivian presidential election takes place today. Photograph: David Mercado/Reuters

 

Bolivians vote today in an election that is almost guaranteed to hand a third consecutive term to President Evo Morales, a former coca farmer whose brand of “indigenous socialism” has expanded the role of the state in a booming economy.

Mr Morales’ folksy appeal and prudent spending of funds from a natural gas bonanza to slash poverty have won the 54-year-old broad support in a country long dogged by political instability.

Campaign billboards run the slogan “With Evo we’re doing well”. A clear majority of Bolivians apparently agree, with opinion polls showing Mr Morales thrashing rivals to win outright in the first round.

Mr Morales has delivered economic growth averaging above 5 per cent since he became the nation’s first ethnic Aymara leader, nationalizing key industries including oil and gas and channelling the windfall into social welfare programs, roads and schools.

Bolivia’s constitution, amended in 2009, allows presidents two straight terms in office. Mr Morales can run after the Supreme Court last year ruled his first period in office from 2006-2009 should not count. Opponents blasted the decision.

If he wins, Mr Morales, who rails against capitalism but has won plaudits from Wall Street for robust growth and running a fiscal surplus, is set to become Bolivia’s longest serving president.

An Ipsos poll last week showed Mr Morales winning the support of 59 percent of voters.

His main rivals are Samuel Doria Medina, a cement tycoon easily beaten by Mr Morales in the last two elections, and Jorque Quiroga who served as president briefly between 2001-2002.

Mr Doria Medina has promised to clean up a judiciary he says is bent while Mr Quiroga has pledged to tackle organized crime in the world’s third largest producer of cocaine.

But they trail Mr Morales by more than 40 points going into the vote.

To avoid a second-round runoff, Morales needs to win 50 per cent of valid votes, or 40 per cent with a lead of at least 10 percentage points over his nearest rival.

The number of Bolivians living in extreme poverty has fallen to one in five from more than a third of the ten million population in 2006. Oil and gas revenues now account for 35 per cent of gross domestic product compared with 10 percent eight years ago, the central bank says.

Voting is mandatory for the Andean nation’s roughly six million voters, who will also elect lawmakers to a Congress that is dominated by Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism party.