Bolivian president launches bid for reelection to fourth term

Chimoré (Bolivia) (AFP) –


Bolivian President Evo Morales launched his campaign Saturday for a fourth term, rejecting opposition allegations that he leads a corrupt and dictatorial government.

Morales, 59, is Bolivia's first indigenous president and is aiming to be reelected in October.

Bolivia's 2009 constitution, promulgated by Morales himself, limits a president to two consecutive terms of office.

A 2016 referendum saw Morales defeated in his bid to secure public support to remove term limits. But his government rejected the result while the constitutional court, filled with Morales loyalists, ruled it was his human right to seek reelection.

Before a massive rally of more than one million people, the leftist leader asked for "five more years (of leadership) to guarantee this liberation for life."

In the next "10 years, maybe 15 years, maximum 20 years, Bolivia will be an economic power," Morales promised in his speech delivered on the airport runway in Chimore.

Bolivia, which was among Latin America's poorest countries for decades, is enjoying relative economic security under Morales on the back of exports of natural gas to Brazil and Argentina, and other raw materials such as lithium to other countries.

Yet 13 continuous years of Morales rule have been overshadowed by criticism for alleged corruption and heavy public spending.

Right-wing presidential candidate Oscar Ortiz recently listed 94 decrees signed by Morales and 13 laws passed by Congress that allow for direct contracting of public works, without bidding. Ortiz said the relaxed regulations resulted in projects possibly in excess of $1 billion.

While Morales has not been caught up in any corruption personally, he has been widely criticized for buying a new presidential jet and building a lavish presidential office building.

"Never, ever have we stolen anything. We have not come here to rob anyone, but to serve the people," Morales said.

Five months before the October election, the opposition is still divided into eight candidates and none has announced a specific plan.

Morales is part of an alliance of Latin leftist leaders including those in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.