Bolivians vote in polls expected to bring upheaval, no matter who wins

For the first time in 20 years, the election does not feature former president Evo Morales.
For the first time in 20 years, the election does not feature former president Evo Morales.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LA PAZ (Bolivia) • Voters in Bolivia expect social upheaval for the second time in a year, no matter who wins yesterday's general election.

For the first time in 20 years, the election does not feature former president Evo Morales.

It comes a year after Mr Morales won an unconstitutional fourth term in an election that sparked weeks of protests.

Mr Morales, who resigned and fled into exile, is barred from taking part, but his successor as leader of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, Mr Luis Arce, has topped every opinion poll since he was nominated in January.

Tensions have been running high, with MAS warning of a pending "fraud" and threatening to protest should they not get their way, while misinformation has been circulating freely.

"Obviously there will be social upheaval... we just hope it won't last long," Ms Clara Quitalba, 49, from the MAS bastion of El Alto on the outskirts of La Paz, told AFP.

Last year, protests broke out against Mr Morales' victory following a 24-hour halt in the live vote count that saw the incumbent's lead jump dramatically once it resumed. A later audit by the Organisation of American States found clear evidence of fraud.

"Hopefully it will be calm because we don't want to go through what happened last year. It was terrible," said Ms Renata Zapata, 24, in La Paz.

The protests did not end with Mr Morales' exile, as his supporters took to the streets in turn. The unrest left 36 dead and 800 injured.

Mr Arce was expected to win yesterday's first round, but the question is whether the 57-year-old can achieve the required 40 per cent with a 10-point lead to avoid a run-off.

Surveys suggest centrist former president Carlos Mesa, 67, will take enough votes to ensure there is a run-off, which he would be expected to win, with the other four candidates likely to then endorse him.

"While the margin will be close, we remain of the view that Mesa will take the race to a Nov 29 run-off, which he would be favoured to win," said Eurasia Group's analyst for Brazil and Bolivia, Mr Filipe Gruppelli Carvalho.

But there is reason to be hopeful of a return to democracy and stability after Mr Morales tried to hold on to power despite the Constitution limiting a president to two successive terms.

"It's the end of a cycle of the Evo Morales government and the political crisis," political scientist Carlos Cordero from the Catholic University told AFP.

Mr Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, ruled for nearly 14 years.

"We hope a process to strengthen the (political) institutions will begin," added Mr Cordero.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2020, with the headline 'Bolivians vote in polls expected to bring upheaval, no matter who wins'. Print Edition | Subscribe