Bolivia urges opposition leader to back audit of vote tally

La Paz (AFP) –


Bolivia's government on Tuesday invited defeated presidential candidate Carlos Mesa to take part in an audit of hotly disputed election results that sparked more than a week of riots amid accusations of fraud favoring the incumbent.

President Evo Morales was re-elected in a controversial October 20 vote that featured a sudden and unexplained vote tally shift that benefitted the 60-year-old socialist leader.

"We'd like to ask Mr Mesa, the losing candidate, to submit to the audit that will be carried out by the Organization of American States," Vice-President Alvaro Garcia told reporters.

The government has agreed to an OAS audit, although no start date for it has been announced.

Dozens of people were injured in street battles between rival government and opposition supporters on Monday as protests went into a second week.

Opposition supporters set up road blocks and continued strike action.

In the eastern city of Santa Cruz, one person suffered a gunshot wound while fist fights broke out in La Paz, degenerating into running battles among people armed with sticks and stones.

Mesa and his allies -- ranging from the center-left to the right -- are demanding the election results be annulled while several foreign powers, including the European Union and United States, have called for a run-off.

Although he didn't earn an absolute majority in the first round, Morales did garner a lead of more than 10 points over Mesa, and under Bolivian law that gave him an outright victory. Otherwise there would have been a run-off next month.

Morales reached the crucial 10-point cushion in controversial fashion on October 21 when his lead suddenly jumped during the ballot count -- an incident that led the OAS to voice "surprise" and "concern."

Morales is already Latin America's longest serving leader, having been in power since 2006. He is now set to retain the presidency until 2025.

His very candidacy was a scandal, though, as Bolivia's constitution limits a president to two successive mandates. Morales has just won a fourth.

Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, lost a 2016 referendum in which he tried to remove term limits but the Constitutional Court let him run again anyway.