Sunday, October 12, 2014 1:36 pm
Polls opened on Sunday in Bolivia’s presidential and congressional elections, with indigenous President Evo Morales widely expected to win a third term in power by a landslide.
Six million Bolivians will cast ballots, with polling centers opening on schedule at 8:00 am (1200 GMT) and expected to close at 4:00 pm.
Morales, who has blended leftwing economic policy with nationalist rhetoric and a focus on indigenous rights and the environment — all while presiding over an economic boom — was seen to have 59 percent support heading into the election, according to surveys.
That puts him more than 40 points clear of his nearest rivals: business magnate Samuel Doria Medina, with 18 percent, and conservative former president Jorge Quiroga, with nine percent.
Morales stands to extend his time in office to 14 years, until January 2020, after Bolivia’s Supreme Court ruled last year that his first term was exempt from a new constitution adopted in 2009 that imposed a limit of one reelection for sitting presidents.
“El Evo,” as he is often called in Bolivia, looks virtually guaranteed to win in a single round.
His Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) was meanwhile on track to win a two-thirds majority in the Senate and possibly in the Chamber of Deputies as well, according to opinion polls.
Morales, who rose to prominence as a union leader fighting for the rights of the country’s coca growers, has brought sweeping changes since taking office in 2006.
His government has nationalized a broad range of sectors including oil, gas, mining, telecommunications and water, rolled out welfare grants for the elderly, children and expectant mothers, and moved to empower previously marginalized groups, including the 65 percent of the population that is indigenous.
Defying opponents’ dire warnings of economic catastrophe, Bolivia has instead seen a boom.
GDP grew 6.8 percent last year and is forecast to grow more than five percent this year, one of the fastest rates in Latin America.
The economic and political stability are welcome in Bolivia, which has had 160 coups since independence in 1825 and remains one of the region’s poorest countries.
Morales, a member of the Aymara ethnic group who grew up in poverty and never finished school, has aligned himself with Cuba, Venezuela and Iran and has an antagonistic relationship with the United States.
In 2008 he kicked the US Drug Enforcement Agency out of the country, along with the American ambassador, accusing them of conspiring against his government.