Bolivia’s leftist presidential candidate Luis Arce has led opinion polls since he was nominated by his Movement for Socialism party in January, but owes his popularity to his mentor, exiled former president Evo Morales.
Arce has campaigned on his record as Morales’s economy and finance minister when Bolivia nationalized the gas and oil sectors, increased GDP from $9.5 billion to $40.8 billion a year, and reduced poverty from 60 percent to 37 percent, according to official figures.
According to Morales, Arce is the “guarantee of stability, economic growth and redistribution of wealth for the future.”
Under Arce’s financial management, Bolivia managed to provide allowances to pregnant women, students and pensioners, while also investing millions in infrastructure to exploit its lithium and natural gas reserves. “We took decisions that made our country the regional leader in several economic and social indicators,” said Arce.
Bolivian voters will decided if they agree in the Sunday, October 18, election, that was delayed for more than five months by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Although Arce appears assured of coming out on top in the election, he must have 40 percent of the votes and a 10 percent lead over the second place candidate to avoid a runoff. Pollsters predict he will fall short and face a centrist or right-wing rival in November.
Born in La Paz on September 28, 1963, Arce comes from a middle-class family. Both his parents were teachers. The 57-year-old economist studied at the state San Andres University in La Paz before taking a masters degree at Warwick University in Great Britain. He worked for 18 years in the Central Bank before assuming the role of finance and economy minister for all but 18 months of Morales’s nearly 14-year presidency.
But he couldn’t be more different than his mentor, who was born into a peasant family that raised llamas. Morales worked during his childhood and missed out on school. His first language is Aymara and he has often faced criticism for his poor Spanish.
Although he leads the polls, Arce’s hopes of winning a runoff look slim, particularly if the ousted candidates rally around his likely opponent, centrist former president Carlos Mesa, as part of an “anyone but MAS” policy.
Arce also has other issues, having been accused by the public prosecutor of “illicit enrichment” while a minister, a charge he denies. Fellow presidential aspirant Luis Fernando Camacho has branded him nothing more than “a puppet of the dictator Morales.”
Right-wing former president Jorge Quiroga called him the “cashier of waste” for massive public spending under Morales, while Mesa has dismissed the economic successes of that period as down to the high prices of primary materials “that no other government had ever received”, rather than “due to their own merit.”
“The result was palaces, airplanes, luxury, waste, corruption,” he added.