Morales confirmed winner of Bolivia election despite opposition accusations of fraud
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Bolivia's electoral tribunal concluded its count of general election votes on Friday and confirmed the controversial re-election of President Evo Morales despite opposition accusations of fraud.
Sunday's vote sparked days of riots and protests after a sudden shift in the vote count on Monday extended Morales's lead over Carlos Mesa, helping him achieve the 10-point margin needed for outright victory.
According to the court, Morales won 47.08 percent of the votes versus former president Carlos Mesa's 36.51 percent.
Meanwhile, pressure grew both at home and abroad for Bolivia to hold a second round of voting, as more protests erupted against the results and the United Nations backed an audit of the vote amid fraud allegations.
Morales and his election rival, Mesa, have exchanged bitter words since the election, with Mesa accusing the president of staging “a monumental fraud” to win a fourth straight term.
Bolivia’s first indigenous president accused Mesa of seeking to oust him in a coup d’etat with international support.
In New York, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world body supports an audit of Bolivia’s election results to be done by the Organization of American States and he appealed to the government and the opposition “to keep the maximum restraint”.
The UN chief told reporters after meeting Bolivia’s Foreign Minister Diego Pary Rodríguez earlier Friday that the government and the OAS “have confirmed to us that there will be an audit”.
On Friday, street blockades went up in middle-class neighborhoods of La Paz, Bolivia’s capital. And each night, protesters have staged protests in front of the electoral tribunal, with police firing tear gas. Protests were also reported in Cochabamba.
'Respect for the vote'
In Santa Cruz, an opposition stronghold in the country’s west, the city was semi-paralysed by a strike to demand “respect for the vote”. Public transportation was scarce and there were sporadic clashes between groups of opposition protesters and Morales supporters.
Meanwhile, the US, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia called for Bolivia to hold a runoff between the incumbent and his top challenger.
A communique issued by Colombia’s foreign ministry on behalf of the US, Brazil and Argentina said the governments of the four nations “will only recognise results that reflect the will of the Bolivian people”.
The European Union took a similar stand, saying it backed a call by the Organization of American States for a second-round election that could help Bolivia regain its footing after days of sometimes violent protests by opposition supporters angered by the slow vote count and an unexplained 24-hour halt in the release of results.
“The European Union shares the OAS’s assessment that the best option would be to make a runoff to restore trust and ensure full respect for the democratic elections of the Bolivian people,” the EU said in a statement.
Morales has responded to electoral fraud accusations by saying a coup attempt is underway and urging his supporters to take to the streets to defend his victory.
The governments of Venezuela, Cuba and Mexico have congratulated him on his win.
Suspicions of electoral fraud rose when officials abruptly stopped releasing results from the quick count of votes hours after the polls closed Sunday. Morales was leading at the time, but also falling several percentage points short of the 10-point edge he needed to avoid a runoff.
Twenty-four hours later, the electoral body suddenly released an updated figure, with 95 percent of votes counted, showing Morales just 0.7 percentage point short of the 10-point advantage.
An OAS observer mission released a statement expressing its “concern and surprise over the drastic change and difficult to justify tendency in the preliminary results.”
Morales, 59, a native Aymara from Bolivia’s highlands, became the country’ first indigenous president in 2006 and easily won the two following elections amid more than a decade of a commodities-fed economic boom in South America’s poorest country. He paved roads, sent Bolivia’s first satellite to space and curbed inflation.
But he has faced growing dissatisfaction, especially over his refusal to accept the results of a 2016 referendum to keep limits on presidential terms. The country’s top court, considered friendly to the president, ruled that limits would violate Morales’ political rights as a citizen.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)