Bolivia polls transparent, Arce victory legitimate: OAS

La Paz (AFP) –


International observers on Wednesday declared Bolivia's presidential election transparent and Luis Arce's incoming leftist government legitimate, as an official but incomplete tally showed an overwhelming victory for the ex-president Evo Morales' protege.

The findings are a sharp difference from 2019 elections, when Arce's former boss Morales won an unconstitutional fourth term in polls that sparked weeks of protests, leaving 36 dead and 800 wounded. A later OAS audit found clear evidence of fraud.

"People voted freely and the result was clear and overwhelming, granting strong legitimacy to the incoming government, to Bolivian institutions and the electoral process," Manuel Gonzalez, head of the observer mission for the Organization of American States, said in releasing the team's preliminary report on Sunday's polls in a video on Twitter.

With more than 90 percent of polling places accounted for, Arce has 54.5 percent -- far more than needed for an outright victory for the 57-year-old economist from the Movement for Socialism (MAS) in the first round.

Centrist ex-president Carlos Mesa has 29.2 percent, followed by right-winger Luis Fernando Camacho with 14.2 percent.

Despite the pandemic, a record 87 percent of Bolivians voted, according to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

"Thanks to the audit report carried out after last year's elections, today the country has an independent electoral authority and had a more equitable and transparent contest," said Gonzalez, a former foreign minister of Costa Rica.

Arce's rivals also recognized his victory, including Mesa and interim president Jeanine Anez, a fierce critic of Arce's leftist MAS party and of ex-president Morales.

In addition to the OAS findings, the results have been in line with projections from two private polling firms on the night of the election.

The European Union and US-based Carter Center also sent missions to observe the vote.

The Bolivian constitution declares the candidate who obtains an absolute majority or 40 percent of the vote with a 10-point advantage over their nearest challenger as the winner in the first round. Otherwise, there must be a second round.

Despite that, hundreds of Bolivians have protested in Santa Cruz, a right-wing bastion, and in the central city of Cochabamba, claiming fraud in Arce's win and opposing a return to Bolivia of the exiled Morales. A crowd also gathered to protest in the capital La Paz.

- Morales reviled by conservatives -

Arce was credited as the architect of Bolivia's economic miracle under Morales, who became the country's first indigenous president in 2006.

Over the next decade, Arce slashed poverty levels and modernized the nation's infrastructure, boosted by demand for Bolivia's natural resources.

The election, twice postponed due to the coronavirus, was the first in 20 years not to feature Morales, who resigned and fled into exile after the 2019 protests.

An interim administration was set up, led by right-wing senator Anez.

She withdrew her candidacy for the presidential vote shortly before the election.

Morales, currently in Buenos Aires, on Monday signaled his intention to return to Bolivia after Arce's sweeping victory.

He faces arrest on terrorism charges after the right-wing interim government accused him of directing anti-government protests from exile.

Morales is also being investigated over allegations of "rape and trafficking" of underage girls.

The leftist ex-president dismissed the accusations, saying they were "part of a dirty war" waged against him.