Morales opponent rejects poll results in Bolivia

La Paz (AFP) –


The main opposition candidate in Bolivia's presidential election refused Monday to recognize results that seemed set to give victory to long-time incumbent Evo Morales, as election monitors voiced "deep concern."

Carlos Mesa, a former president who came a close second to Morales in Sunday's polls -- forcing a run-off, according to preliminary results -- denounced revised results released by election authorities as a "fraud."

"We are not going to recognize those results that are part of a shameful, consumated fraud, that is putting Bolivian society in a situation of unnecessary tension," Mesa said.

Election monitors from the Organization of American States earlier expressed "deep concern" at sudden changes to the election count that showed Morales closing in on an outright victory in the first round.

"The OAS mission expresses its deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results revealed after the closing of the polls," it said in a statement.

Preliminary results released late Sunday showed neither Morales, 59, nor 66-year-old Mesa with a majority and "clearly indicated a second round," the OAS mission said.

The partial results put Morales in the lead with 45 percent of the votes, with Mesa on 38 percent, meaning Morales would have to contest a run-off for the first time.

The OAS called on the election authority to "firmly defend the will of the Bolivian people" and called for calm on the streets, amid reports of clashes between both sets of supporters in La Paz.

"It is extremely important that calm is maintained and any form of violence is avoided in this delicate situation."

Opposition supporters held protests outside key count centers around the country, in the southern city of Potosi, Cochabamba in the center and Santa Cruz in the east, to keep up the pressure on electoral authorities.

Morales, Latin America's longest-serving president, is controversially seeking a fourth term.

He obtained Constitutional Court permission in 2017 to run again for president even though the constitution allows only two consecutive terms.

The former coca farmer and leftist union leader has led the poor but resource-rich Latin American country for the past 13 years, though his popularity has waned amid allegations of corruption and authoritarianism.

He has led the country since taking office in 2006, when he became its first indigenous president.

A new mandate would keep him in power until 2025.

As leader of his Movement for Socialism Party (MAS), Morales points to a decade of economic stability and considerable industrialization as his achievements, while insisting he has brought "dignity" to Bolivia's indigenous population, the largest in Latin America.

He has come under severe criticism this year as wildfires in August and September ravaged Bolivia's forests and grasslands, with activists saying his policies encouraged the use of blazes to clear farmland.