Evo Morales party claim victory in Bolivian vote, sealing a comeback

Bolivia's leftist presidential candidate Luis Arce (C), of the Movement for Socialism party, celebrates with running mate David Choquehuanca (R) early on October 19, 2020, in La Paz, Bolivia.
Bolivia's leftist presidential candidate Luis Arce (C), of the Movement for Socialism party, celebrates with running mate David Choquehuanca (R) early on October 19, 2020, in La Paz, Bolivia. © Ronaldo Schemidt, AFP

Bolivia's socialists claimed victory Monday in a presidential poll, sealing a dramatic election comeback after their centrist rival Carlos Mesa conceded the vote, with several unofficial vote counts giving the party of ousted leader Evo Morales an unassailable lead.

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Interim President Jeanine Anez, a bitter foe of Morales, and Mesa, the main rival of Morales's handpicked successor, Luis Arce, both conceded defeat on Monday.

Officials released no formal, comprehensive quick count of results from Sunday's vote, but two independent surveys of selected polling places showed Arce with a lead of roughly 20 percentage points over his closest rival – far more than needed to avoid a runoff.

Anez asked Arce “to govern with Bolivia and democracy in mind”.

Arce, meanwhile, appealed for calm in the bitterly divided nation saying he would seek to form a government of national unity under his Movement for Socialism party.

“I think the Bolivian people want to retake the path we were on,” Arce declared, surrounded by a small group of supporters, some of them in traditional Andean dress in honour of the country’s Indigenous roots.

To win in the first round, a candidate needs more than 50 percent of the vote, or 40 percent with a lead of at least 10 percentage points over the second-place candidate. The independent counts, sponsored by the Catholic Church and civic groups, showed Arce with a little over 50 percent of the vote and a roughly 20-point advantage over centrist former President Mesa.

The formal official count had Mesa with a 41 percent to 39 percent lead over Arce with 24 percent of the vote tallied on Monday, but those votes appeared to be largely from urban areas rather than the rural heartlands that have been the base of Morales' support. Officials said final results could take days.

The result is a body blow for Bolivia's conservatives, who had hoped to present a new model for the country beyond Morales, who sought an unprecedented fourth term last year despite term limits, which had led to protests again him.

All eyes on Morales  

Much attention now focuses on Morales, whose authoritarian 14-year grip on power left a bitter aftertaste from many Bolivians outside his largely indigenous political party.

"Sooner or later we are going to return to Bolivia, that is not in debate," Morales told a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

"My great desire is to return to Bolivia and enter my region. It is a matter of time," said Morales, who was ousted amid protests after his victory in 2019 elections was annulled over rigging allegations.

Morales resigned on November 10 after losing the support of the armed forces in the midst of the crisis, which left 36 dead and hundreds wounded.

Thwarted in his attempt to secure a fourth term, he initially fled to Mexico but has since settled in neighbouring Argentina after leftist Alberto Fernandez's election victory there.

Morales thanked Fernandez and Mexican President Manuel Andres Lopez Obrador for their support.

He also hailed congratulatory messages from other leftist leaders, Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro and former Uruguayan president Jose Mujica.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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