Jubilation and disappointment took over the streets of Bolivia on Monday, after unofficial counts showed Evo Morales’s party sweeping the country’s presidential election without the need for a second round of voting.
After 11 months of political turmoil that bitterly divided the nation, two independent surveys late on Sunday showed Luis Arce, the candidate for Morales’s Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party, with more than 50 percent of the vote – well above the second place centrist rival Carlos Mesa, who had slightly over 30 percent, and far more than the requirements to avoid a runoff.
On Monday the official count had tallied over 25 percent of votes cast, with official results expected in several days, but candidates said that given the wide winning margin, the final count is unlikely to show a meaningful difference.
Observers said the results showed a clear rejection of the right-wing policies of the interim government of Jeanine Anez, a conservative senator who took office after Morales was ousted from power a year ago. Late on Sunday, Anez conceded and congratulated the winners.
“We still have no official count, but according to the data we have, Mr [Luis] Arce and Mr [David] Choquehuanca [his running mate] have won the election,” Anez wrote in a tweet late on Sunday.
“I congratulate the winners and I ask them to govern with Bolivia and democracy in mind.”
Arce, meanwhile, who is expected to take office sometime next month, called for calm in the polarised nation, and vowed to form a government of national unity.
“We have recovered democracy and hope,” Arce said in a speech early on Monday. “We are going to govern for all Bolivians and construct a government of national unity,” he said.
Analysts say the election outcome is chastening for the country’s right wing, and will likely boost the image of Morales, whose shadow still looms large over the country, despite him living in exile in Argentina since his narrow win in last year’s election was annulled amid bloody protests and allegations of fraud.
Morales and his supporters say he was the victim of an orchestrated coup.
“This was a punishment vote,” said Raul Penaranda, a journalist and political analyst based in La Paz.
“Those who abandoned the MAS last year were thinking ‘if this is the alternative, then no, we prefer what we had before,’” Penaranda said.
Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous leader, was an iconic, popular figure during his 14 years as president. But he angered many Bolivians after insisting on running for a fourth term in office, in defiance of a referendum against extending term limits. His administration was also marred by allegations of corruption and overreach of power.
Anez, who declared herself interim president promising swift new elections, sought to consolidate her grip on power and announced her own bid for the presidency, after initially saying she did not plan to run.She brought trumped-up terrorism charges against Morales, and clamped down on MAS officials and supporters – prompting allegations of human rights violations by rights groups, and further fuelling polarisation in the country.