Bolivia's Morales says open to holding runoff, despite claiming outright election victory

David Mercado, REUTERS | Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks during a news conference at the presidential palace La Casa Grande del Pueblo in La Paz, Bolivia, October 24, 2019.

Bolivian President Evo Morales on Thursday said he was open to holding a second-round runoff in the country’s presidential elections, despite having claimed outright victory over his rival Carlos Mesa.

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The election results have been widely disputed and triggered violent unrest, a general strike and opposition charges that Morales was trying to steal the election to secure a fourth straight term.

"If we don't win with 10 percent (points) difference, we will respect" the result, Morales told a press conference. "If we have to go to a second round, we will go."

Earlier he had claimed to have won 46.83 percent to Mesa's 36.7 percent, with a small percentage of votes remaining to be counted.

There was no immediate confirmation of this from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

After Morales' claim of victory in the first round, the panel's website still had older figures that showed Mesa with a larger share of the votes and Morales about a point short of what is required to avoid a runoff.

Mesa said Wednesday he would not recognise results tallied by the tribunal, which he accused of manipulating the count to help the leftist Morales win.

Mesa has insisted there be a runoff between him and the president, and called on supporters to keep protesting in the streets of this resource-rich but poor South American country.

Observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) have expressed concern over the vote count, which first showed Morales and Mesa in a tight race and headed for a runoff, and then shifted Monday to give the president a wider lead.

"Due to the context and the problems evidenced in this electoral process, convening a second round continues to be a better option," said the head of the OAS election monitoring department, Gerardo de Icaza.

The European Union, Brazil, Argentina and the US also expressed concern over how the votes were tallied. And the Catholic Church voiced support for a runoff, with Bolivian bishops saying in a statement that "a second round with impartial supervision is the best democratic solution we have at this time".

‘Stealing' the election

On Wednesday, Bolivia's opposition launched a general strike against what they said was an effort by Morales “to steal” the election, and called for a "permanent mobilization" on the streets until the country's electoral authority "recognises that the second round must take place".

Opposition leader Mesa also announced the formation of a political alliance with right-wing parties and centrist leaders that will press for the election's outcome to be determined in a runoff vote.

Also on Wednesday, clashes broke out between rival demonstrators in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, and offices in the city housing Bolivia's electoral authority were set on fire overnight, and security forces clashed with demonstrators in La Paz and elsewhere.

Pro-Morales protests

Meanwhile, an umbrella organisation of pro-Morales labour and farmers' unions, CONALCAM, called on its members to defend the official results.

"We will go out on the streets and on the roads to firmly defend democracy and the votes of Bolivians," said the leader of the main union, Juan Carlos Guarachi, after a meeting with Morales.

Morales obtained Constitutional Court permission in 2017 to run again despite a 2016 referendum in which Bolivians said no to letting him do so.

The one-time 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.

A new mandate would keep him in power until 2025.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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