Early exit polls suggest Luis Arce, an ally of former president Evo Morales,might have secured enough support to avoid a runoff vote. Bolivians were voting in a repeat of the 2019 election after which Morales fled.
An exit poll in Bolivia’s high stakes presidential election gave socialist candidate Luis Arce the lead he needs to avoid a run-off election. The quick-count Ciesmori polls were released late on Sunday by Bolivian media. They showed Arce with 52.4% of the votes and Carlos Mesa in second place candidate with 31.5%.
Arce, a former economy minister, is an ally of former-President Evo Morales, while Mesa is a centrist who served as president in the early 2000s.
To avoid a runoff, the winning candidate needed to secure more than 50% of the vote, or 40% with a lead of at least 10% over the second-place candidate.
Without claiming victory, Arce thanked supporters and had a confident tone in a press conference shortly after midnight in the Bolivian capital La Paz.
“We are going to work, and we will resume the process of change without hate,” Arce told reporters. “We will learn and we will overcome the mistakes we’ve made [before] as the Movement Toward Socialism party.”
Bolivia erupted in violence in October 2019, when long-time President Morales was seeking a fourth term — despite the fact that he was not technically eligible to do so.
The country’s high court gave him the green light to run, despite him having lost a referendum asking Bolivians if the constitution could be amended to add a fourth term.
As results announced on election night were reversed two days later, handing a narrow victory to Morales, chaos erupted nationwide. The results’ delay triggered violence that cost at least 30 lives, sparked food shortages, and led police and military leaders to force the former president into exile.
Prior to Sunday’s vote, Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Court unanimously ruled against reporting preliminary vote totals as ballots are counted, advising that only the final tally should be reported, which could take up to five days.
Conservative Senator Jeanne Anez, the interim president who did not take part in the election, asked voters to stay calm until final results were announced.
“Patience, we must all be patient waiting for the results without generating any type of violence,” said Anez, referring to the vote count, which may take days. “I assure you we will have credible results.”
Still cautioning that the results weren’t yet official, Anez later congratulated Arce on his “apparent win” on Twitter.
If Arce’s victory is confirmed, it would be a triumph for the leftist movement Evo Morales built.
But as his successor, Arce will likely have to govern under the long shadow of the man who was his former boss and the country’s first indigenous president.
Despite overseeing a long period of stability in one of Latin America’s most volatile countries and an export-led economic surge, Morales remains a polarizing figure in Bolivian politics. In particular, his quest for a fourth term upset large chunks of the population and led to him fleeing the country.
The staunch support he still holds, however, likely contributed to Arce’s success. Now, Arce will face the question of whether Morales can return from exile and how he should face a series of corruption scandals.
All of this is happening as the coronavirus pandemic has struck Bolivia harder than almost any other country on a per capita basis – nearly 8,400 of its 11.6 million people have died of COVID-19.
Landlocked Bolivia remains one of the poorest countries in the region, despite being resource rich. The election also comes amid severe economic turmoil, with GDP expected to contract by 6.2% in 2020.