Election: Bolivia starts long vote count after unexpectedly calm election
A vote count expected to last for days began in Bolivia on Sunday after a divisive, but unexpectedly calm, election pitting former president Evo Morales’ leftist MAS party against centrists and conservatives.
More than 7 million people were eligible to elect a president and a congress, with long queues reported at some polling stations even after voting had officially closed.
The electoral authority announced on Saturday that there would be no preliminary vote count on election night after such a count unleashed fraud allegations and violent protests that led to the avoidance of elections held a year ago.
In that poll, Morales claimed to have won a fourth term, but the protests and pressure from the military forced the Andean country’s first indigenous president to go into exile.
Right-wing senator Jeanine Anez then took power as interim president.
The presidential candidate of Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS), Luis Arce, is now seen as having a good chance of defeating centrist Carlos Mesa, who had hoped to attract Anez supporters after she withdrew from the race.
But if Morales’ former economy minister does not secure more than 50 per cent of the vote, or 40 per cent with a 10-point advantage over Mesa, the election will go to a run-off which the MAS could lose if the conservative camp unites behind the centrist ex-president.
Dozens of violent incidents in the run-up to the poll had sparked concern that Bolivia could see a repeat of last year’s fraud claims and clashes involving Morales’ supporters, opponents and police, which left more than 30 people dead.
A heavy military presence was reported outside some polling stations and in La Paz on Sunday.
But the authorities said there had been no major incidents, with Anez describing the elections as “a democratic and peaceful celebration.”
Morales called for the election results to be respected, while saying his party had its own system for checking their accuracy, daily Pagina Siete reported.
Many observers believe an eventual Arce victory would open the way for Morales to return to Bolivia from Argentina, from where he played a prominent role in the MAS’ electoral campaign.
MAS supporters say Morales presided over unprecedented stability and growth during his 13 years in power, with poverty going down by 40 per cent.
They see the main anti-MAS parties as representing a racist white or mestizo elite indifferent to the interests of the country’s large indigenous population.
Anez’s government has meanwhile been accused of handling the coronavirus pandemic – which has claimed more than 8,400 lives in Bolivia – badly as well as of corruption and severely repressing the opposition.
Last year’s fraud allegations against Morales, which allowed Anez to take power, have also been questioned by economists, statisticians and U.S. Congress members.
The Organisation of American States (OAS) has denied accusations that it falsely backed the fraud claims under U.S. pressure to oust a leftist government.
OAS observers confirmed that Sunday’s elections were calm, according to the national news agency ABI.
Previously, the MAS’ popularity suffered after its supporters blocked roads around the country in August to protest against a delay to the elections.
The blockades led to food shortages and the deaths of dozens of hospital patients left without medical supplies.
Towards the end of Morales’ last term, his popularity had already started to wane due to his reluctance to leave power and corruption accusations against his government.
Voting took place under safety measures amid the pandemic.
Results are expected on Wednesday at the earliest, with a potential second-round due on Nov. 29.
Election: Bolivia starts long vote count after unexpectedly calm election (DPA)