Bolivia gives Morales win, mandate
Leftist president reelected; more change expected
LA PAZ, Bolivia - President Evo Morales easily won reelection yesterday, according to unofficial results, getting an overwhelming mandate for further revolutionary change on behalf of Bolivia’s long-suppressed indigenous majority.
Morales’s allies also won a convincing majority in both houses of Congress.
Opponents say they fear the coca-growers’ union leader will use his consolidated power not just to continue reversing racially based inequalities but also to trample human rights and increase state influence over the economy.
Unofficial counts of 98 percent of the vote by two polling firms said Bolivia’s first indigenous president won with 63 percent of the ballots - 36 points ahead of his closest challenger in a field of nine.
Jubilant supporters waving Bolivian flags celebrated in La Paz’s Murillo square after the polls closed, chanting “Evo! Evo!’’
Manfred Reyes, a center-right former state governor and military officer, conceded soon after. He won 27 percent of the vote, according to the unofficial tallies.
In a booming victory speech punctuated by fireworks from the balcony of the presidential palace, Morales called on all sectors of society - including the opposition - to unite behind him.
“We have the enormous responsibility to deepen and accelerate this process of change,’’ he said, insisting final results will give him two-thirds of both chambers of Congress.
The lopsided results signaled an opposition in disarray.
“Evo Morales has a mandate unlike any other president in the hemisphere, including Barack Obama,’’ said analyst Jim Shultz of the nonprofit Democracy Center in Cochabamba.
Reyes narrowly led in the opposition bastion of Santa Cruz state in the eastern lowlands with 50 percent, compared with 43 percent for Morales.
The three political parties that dominated Bolivian politics for decades have been all but erased. The last survivor was the National Union. Its presidential candidate, Samuel Doria Medina, a centrist cement magnate, got just 6 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results
Voters also chose a new Congress, and the exit polls indicated Morales’s stridently leftist Movement Toward Socialism easily won a majority in the 36-seat Senate and 130-member lower house.
The movement appeared to secure two-thirds in the Senate but fall just short in the lower house.
It would need two-thirds’ control of both chambers to dictate the terms of a law on indigenous territorial self-rule, make key appointments unchallenged, and amend the constitution to allow Morales to seek a third straight term - the 50-year-old incumbent has been evasive on the latter issue.
Still, with majorities in both houses, Morales will have the power to expand on radical changes he has made, such as indigenous autonomy and land reform.
Nearly six of 10 Bolivians live in poverty and Morales gained immense support using increased profits from Bolivia’s natural gas industry to fund highly popular subsidies for schoolchildren and the elderly as well as one-time payments for new mothers.
“We’ll always back Evo Morales’s government because he takes into account the poor,’’ said Ramiro Cano, a 40-year-old jeweler and a member of Bolivia’s dominant Aymara ethnic group that voted for reelection. Cano praised Morales especially for the annual subsidy his two children receive for attending school.
Higher prices for the natural gas and minerals that account for the bulk of Bolivia’s exports helped the country’s economy grow 6 percent last year. The government expects 3 percent growth for 2009.
Morales’s victory extends the stability he has brought to a country notorious for coups and that had five presidents in the five years preceding his December 2005 election with 54 percent of the vote.
The reelection to a five-year term occurs under a new constitution ratified by voters in January that “refounded’’ Bolivia as a “plurinational’’ state, allowing self-rule for the poor South American country’s 36 native peoples.
Twelve of Bolivia’s more than 330 municipalities voted on indigenous autonomy, which would allow them to abandon modern political structures in favor of traditional Indian governance based on consensus-building.