Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, was ahead in the first round of the nation’s presidential election, but he appeared to have failed to get enough votes to avoid a runoff in the tightest political race of his life.
The Andean country’s top electoral authority said on Sunday night that a preliminary count of 84% of the votes showed Morales, who leads the Movement towards Socialism (MAS) party, was ahead with 45.3%, compared to 38.2% for his closest rival, former president, Carlos Mesa. If the results hold, the two men will face off in December and Morales could be vulnerable to a united opposition in the first runoff in his nearly 14 years in power.
To avoid a runoff and win outright, Morales would have needed to get 50% of the votes plus one or have 40% and finish 10 percentage points ahead of the nearest challenger. If a second round is required, it will take place on 15 December.
We’re going to wait until the last vote is counted,” Morales told his supporters in La Paz’s Plaza Murillo on Sunday night. “We’re going to win again.”
Carlos Mesa also announced a victory for democracy, telling supporters shortly after the first results were announced that his coalition had scored “an unquestionable triumph,” and he urged others parties to join him for a “definitive triumph” in the second round.
National coordinator of Mesa’s coalition, Jose Antonio Quiroga, did not rule out fraud. On election day, he said, “We’re really worried. It’s looking like the MAS won’t allow the process to go to a second round.”
It is almost certain that Morales will lose the two thirds majority in Bolivia’s Congress that he has held since 2009. This will make fulfilling a legislative agenda far more difficult even if he does win the runoff.
“What is different from the elections in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia, is that there is a movement towards the centre by all the candidates,” says political scientist Fernando Mayorga. “Why? Because they all fundamentally agree with the principal economic and social accomplishments of the MAS government.”