LA PAZ, Bolivia -- Nearly complete vote tabulations yesterday pointed to an easy victory by leftist leader Evo Morales, showing the coca grower with more popular support than any Bolivian president since democracy was restored two decades ago.
Morales, an Aymara Indian active in street protests that have driven two presidents from office since 2003, had 54.3 percent of the votes cast Sunday, according to official tallies from 93 percent of polling places.
Turnout was near 85 percent, much higher than in previous elections, the electoral court said. He campaigned against the South American nation's free market policies and criticized the US-backed campaign to eradicate the coca crop, which provides the base of cocaine.
Morales' outright majority in the eight-man race was unexpected. It is the first time since democratic rule resumed in 1982 that Bolivia's presidential election did not end inconclusively at the ballot box, leaving it to Congress to make the final choice.
The surprising strength of his victory was one reason widely held fears of post-election chaos dissipated. Fitch Ratings, an international credit rating agency, kept Bolivia's credit rating unchanged yesterday, saying Morales' government might have a greater degree of legitimacy than its recent predecessors and therefore lead to better governance.
Conservative parties held on to many seats in Congress, but Morales' strong victory should give him leverage with Bolivia's political and business elite as he makes the transition from leader of street protests to his nation's presidents, analysts said.
''If the opposition parties are seen as not being constructive and blocking everything Morales tries to do that would not be in their own interests," said Michael Shifter, vice president for policy at Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank.
''I think that they initially would have to be pretty cooperative, recognizing that Morales has a very broad and impressive mandate."
The National Electoral Court wasn't expected to formally declare Morales the winner until all votes are counted, but his victory margin has increased as ballots arrive from his strongholds in remote areas.
His conservative rival, Jorge Quiroga, conceded defeat after finishing with just 28.6 percent, and Bolivia's caretaker president was already organizing a transition team in anticipation of Morales' Jan. 22 inauguration.
Morales, 46, will be the country's first Indian president during its 180 years of independence even though Indians make up a majority of the population.
Although he is a coca farmer himself and long a critic of the anti-drug eradication campaign, Morales insists his government will fight drug trafficking, but also will preserve a legal coca market in Bolivia. People in the Andes chew coca to stave off hunger, drink it as tea, and use it as medicine.
Morales leads the Movement Toward Socialism party and counts Cuban President Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez among his closest allies. He also has said he welcomes good relations with the United States, but won't accept a ''relationship of submission."
In turn, US diplomats have offered congratulations, but expressed caution about the victory of a man who has described himself as a ''nightmare" for the United States.