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Morales wins recall vote

©

Latest update : 2008-08-11

Embattled Bolivian President Evo Morales won Sunday's recall vote, according to exit polls - but so did a coalition of political enemies he had sought to weaken with the vote.


LA PAZ, Aug 10 (Reuters) - Bolivian President Evo Morales
easily won a recall vote on Sunday and vowed to push on with
socialist reforms that his rightist opponents in South
America's poorest country are trying to block.
 

The election pitted Morales against governors who have
pushed for autonomy for their resource-rich provinces and are
furious that he has cut their share of windfall natural gas
revenues.
 

Morales, a former coca leaf farmer who is Bolivia's first
Indian leader, hopes his victory will allow him to forge ahead
with changes like nationalizations, land redistribution and a
constitution that aims to give more power to the poor.
 

But his main rivals also won recall votes on Sunday,
meaning the conflict will continue and could get worse as both
sides feel they have won a new mandate to stand firm.
 

"What the Bolivian people have expressed with their votes
today is the consolidation of change," a beaming Morales told
thousands of cheering supporters who gathered outside his
presidential palace in La Paz.
 

"We're here to move forward with the recovery of our
natural resources, the consolidation of nationalization, and
the state takeover of companies."
 

Unofficial exit polls said Morales secured more than 60
percent of the vote -- far higher than the 53.7 percent he won
when he was elected president in December 2005.
 

Supporters of Morales and of the main opposition governors
alike took to the streets waving banners, chanting, dancing and
setting off fire crackers after a peaceful vote that contrasted
with violent protests earlier in the week.
 

"I'm glad he has won, because Mr Morales is one of us, he's
working class like me. I expect things to improve now, because
someone from the same background as me cannot let me down,"
said 32-year-old computer technician Hector Gutierrez.
 

The bitter power struggle between Morales and opposition
governors has exposed deep divisions between the wealthier east
of the country and the more indigenous west, and has forced
Morales to put many reforms on hold.
 

Morales approved the recall vote in an apparent bid to
undermine their autonomy drives.
 

But with Bolivia roiled by protests, and a bloc of four
anti-Morales governors also surviving the recall vote, the
standoff will continue unless a compromise can be negotiated.
 

POLITICAL STALEMATE
 

"The initial reading is that the political crisis and
tension in the country is going to deepen greatly," said
Franklin Pareja, professor of political science at the
state-run San Andres University in La Paz.
 

The opposition governors are angry that Morales has cut
their share of windfall natural gas revenues and accuse him of
governing only for his supporters. They also view him as a
lackey of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the vocal leader of
a group of Latin America's radical left-wing presidents.
 

At campaign rallies leading up to the vote, Morales
distributed money from Chavez for schools, roads and an office
for a mining union.
 

Bolivians toppled their president in 2003 with a wave of
street protests, demanding the energy industry be taken over by
the state and calling for a new constitution.
 

Morales nationalized the oil and gas industry and has
worked to reform the constitution. He also champions
cultivation of coca, the raw ingredient of cocaine, though for
traditional uses.
 

Bolivia is the No. 3 world producer of coca, which has many
legal uses in Bolivia. It is used in teas and religious
ceremonies and is chewed to combat altitude sickness and
suppress hunger.
 

An exit poll by private TV channel Unitel said Morales won
60.12 percent of the vote, while a count by pollster Ipsos
Apoyo for channel ATB gave Morales 63.1 percent.
 

Three governors, including two of Morales' opponents, lost
their jobs but the president's main rivals all survived.
 

Manfred Reyes Villa, the anti-Morales governor of
Cochabamba in Bolivia's coca-growing heartland, remained
defiant despite losing the recall vote.
 

"My lawyers have told me this is unconstitutional," Reyes
Villa said. "Legally, I continue to be the governor of
Cochabamba."
 

Final official results are due in next few days.

Date created : 2008-08-11

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