Evo Morales' former aide claims early victory in Bolivian election less than one year after former boss ousted

Associated Press
·2-min read
The president and vice-president will be chosen in this election - Martin Alipaz/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
The president and vice-president will be chosen in this election - Martin Alipaz/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Evo Morales' party claimed victory in Bolivia's presidential election as official results trickled in from Sunday's high-stakes redo of last year's annulled ballot that saw the leftist leader resign and flee the country.

More than nine hours after polls closed, barely 6 per cent of all ballot boxes had been counted and they showed Morales' handpicked successor, Luis Arce, trailing a conservative rival.

But with a private quick count of sampled polling stations favoring Arce by a wide margin, even interim President Jeanine Anez _ an archrival of Morales _ recognized that the socialist movement looked set to return to power in what looked to be a major jolt to South America's beleaguered left.

"I congratulate the winners and I ask them to govern thinking in Bolivia and in our democracy," Ms Anez said on Twitter.

Bolivians have long been accustomed to quick preliminary results in presidential elections. But after allegations of fraud and days of unrest marred last year's ballot, newly installed electoral authorities had been appealing for patience, reminding voters that they have up to five days to declare a winner.

Bolivia's leftist presidential candidate Luis Arce (centre) - RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP via Getty Image
Bolivia's leftist presidential candidate Luis Arce (centre) - RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP via Getty Image

While voting was peaceful, the long wait Sunday night for results fuelled speculation that something was awry. Adding to intrigue, publication of two exit polls was also withheld after private pollsters said they didn't trust their own survey results.

Mr Morales broke the tense silence by declaring Mr Arce the winner. Later, two pollsters said a quick count of official tally sheets at select polling stations showed Arce had garnered more than 50 per cent of the votes, compared to 31 per cent for former President Carlos Mesa, the top finisher of four rival candidates.

"We've recovered our democracy," Mr Morales said in brief remarks from exile in Argentina. "Lucho will be our president."

Appearing a few minutes later, Mr Arce took a less strident tone and appealed for calm, saying he would seek to form a government of national unity.

"I think the Bolivian people want to retake the path we were on," Mr Arce declared around midnight surrounded by a small group of supporters, some of them in traditional Andean dress in honor of the country's Indigenous roots.

Bolivian ex-president Evo Morales - ALEJANDRO PAGNI/AFP via Getty Images
Bolivian ex-president Evo Morales - ALEJANDRO PAGNI/AFP via Getty Images

The early official results favored Mr Mesa, a former journalist and historian, with 49 per cent compared to 33 per cent for Arce.

Prior to voting, polls showed Mr Arce ahead but lacking enough votes to avoid a November runoff, where conservative voters would've likely rallied behind Mr Mesa. To win in the first round, a candidate needs more than 50 per cent of the vote, or 40 per cent with a lead of at least 10 percentage points over the second-place candidate.