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World A year after disputed ballot, Bolivians return to polls, and ex-president Evo Morales looms large

05:50  18 october  2020
05:50  18 october  2020 Source:   latimes.com

Bolivia's vote a high-stakes presidential redo amid pandemic

  Bolivia's vote a high-stakes presidential redo amid pandemic LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Bolivians vote Sunday in a high-stakes presidential election redo that could determine its democratic future and bring a return of socialism to the country as it struggles with a raging pandemic and protests over last year’s annulled ballot. Bolivia, once one of the most politically volatile countries in Latin America, experienced a rare period of stability under former President Evo Morales, the country’s first Indigenous president who resigned and fled the country late last year after his claimed election win was annulled amid allegations of fraud. His ouster set off a period of unrest that caused at least 36 deaths.

Now, after multiple postponements, Bolivians will finally vote Sunday to choose a new president , vice president , and Legislative Assembly. Morales , the country's larger -than-life, first indigenous president , had been credited for a years -long In his 2019 bid to return to the highest office, the

When Bolivians head to the polls on October 18 to vote for a new government and parliament, ex - President Evo Morales Unrest looms . Bolivia has been in turmoil since last year ’s presidential election. Many Bolivians are appalled by interim president Jeanine Anez and her allies, who have

He is not on the ballot, but former President Evo Morales looms large in Bolivia’s much-anticipated national elections Sunday.

Evo Morales wearing a suit and tie: Former Bolivian President Evo Morales, shown in a file photo holding coca leaves as he speaks to the U.N. about drugs, remains in exile in Argentina. (Bebeto Matthews / Associated Press) © (Bebeto Matthews / Associated Press) Former Bolivian President Evo Morales, shown in a file photo holding coca leaves as he speaks to the U.N. about drugs, remains in exile in Argentina. (Bebeto Matthews / Associated Press)

The socialist firebrand and longtime U.S. adversary remains in exile in neighboring Argentina after resigning from office under military pressure following a contentious vote a year ago, when he sought a controversial fourth term in office.

But his political party, which features Morales' former economic minister as its presidential candidate, is leading in polls in the run-up to the new balloting in this landlocked Andean nation of 11 million.

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Bolivia ’s socialists are seeking to retake power in elections this Sunday a year after their leader Evo Morales was ousted and driven into exile. Morales ’s ally Luis Arce, a U.K.-educated economist, is leading in polls , but needs to avoid a run-off His main rival is former President Carlos Mesa, who

Bolivia 's ex - president Evo Morales has said he is ready to return to 'pacify' his country 'if the people ask him' as his replacement hails the end of his She called for an election 'as soon as possible' and a peaceful transition of power after Morales was ousted and flew to Mexico where he was granted

Sunday’s contest has drawn poll watchers from across the globe. Some call the election — which also includes contests for the national legislature — the most significant in the country’s modern history.

“It’s a huge moment for Bolivia, precisely because of what happened in last year’s elections,” said John Walsh, an analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America. “Everyone sees this as having enormous, even existential stakes for the country. ... And if people are incited to protests and violence because they think the election is being stolen from them, it could get very ugly, very quickly.”

Authorities are on high alert amid fears that a close or disputed vote could trigger fresh upheaval in the streets.

An economic recession — fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and depressed commodity prices — has prompted many Bolivians to yearn for the return of so-called “Evonomics,” the amalgam of social welfare payouts, public works projects and a generally hands-off approach toward businesses that saw Bolivia’s economy grow steadily during much of Morales’ almost 14 years in office. High prices for commodities, especially natural gas, fueled relative economic prosperity in a nation that has long been among the poorest and most politically volatile in Latin America.

Bolivia’s Left Wins Big in New Election

  Bolivia’s Left Wins Big in New Election Voters decisively rejected the party responsible for ousting socialist Evo Morales from power last year.The election isn’t just a repudiation of Áñez or the Bolivian right. It’s an embarrassment for the U.S. government, which backed Áñez in 2019 as Morales sought a fourth presidential term. Morales’s reelection campaign had spurred accusations that he had become an authoritarian figure; he had previously lost a public referendum that would have allowed him to run again, but did so anyway after a court ruled in his favor.

Bolivian President Evo Morales has resigned after nearly 14 years in power, amid turmoil following his disputed re-election last month. The head of the army had called on him to go after protests over his election win. Auditors found irregularities with the poll but Mr Morales said he had been the victim

With almost 14 years as president of Bolivia under his belt, Evo Morales was one of the longest serving leaders in Latin America - and his country's first indigenous leader. Evo Morales was born in a rural village in the western Oruro region into a family from the Aymara indigenous group.

While his critics denounce him as a left-wing autocrat, for many Bolivians, Morales' tenure stands in stark contrast to the country’s current hard times.

“With the government of Evo we were much better off, there was economic security, not like now,” said Rosa Machaca, 43, a fruit vendor on the streets of the capital. “Now there are families that don’t have enough to eat.”

Sunday’s election is an official rerun of last year’s disputed balloting, which ultimately saw Morales step down even though he had the most votes in his bid for a fourth consecutive term. A court ruling had allowed him to run even though voters in a national referendum had said he should not be able to seek a fourth term.

The Bolivian military high command pushed him to leave office after weeks of street protests about alleged voting fraud, which he denied. Morales called the outcome a U.S.-backed coup, but Washington denied any involvement in his resignation.

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Bolivian President Evo Morales (R) greets people as he arrives at the community of Villa 14 in the Local television stations are expected to air exit polls a few hours after the voting ends, with official Morales said the child later died. The president rejected corruption allegations as "a hoax by the US

Evo Morales served as Bolivia 's president for almost 14 years , from 2006 to 2019, after winning three consecutive elections. A member of Mr Morales ' party, economist Luis Arce, is running for president , and opinion polls suggest he is the front-runner.

A right-wing legislator, Jeanine Añez, succeeded Morales as the country's interim president, a move that Morales called illegal. Añez famously brandished a Bible as she took the presidential oath, a broadside against Morales’ secular, left-wing leadership. The Trump administration applauded the departure of Morales, an admirer of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez who rose from humble origins as the head of the union representing the country’s growers of coca leaf, the raw ingredient in cocaine.

Lawmakers later vacated the results of last year's vote and scheduled a new election.

But Añez, a stalwart of the country’s economic elite, could never gain electoral traction beyond her right-leaning base. With the economy having tanked, she dropped out of the race last month.

Now the interim president — accused of illegal repression of the pro-Morales camp — has embraced what is called here the “anyone but MAS” strategy, after the Spanish acronym of Morales’ political bloc, Movement Toward Socialism.

“We have to vote responsibly for the most beneficial candidates, the ones who will defeat Evo Morales,” Añez said this week.

National elections loom after a brutal year for Bolivia

  National elections loom after a brutal year for Bolivia It started with allegations of fraud amid contested national elections. Then came claims of a coup. An incumbent president was exiled, protests paralyzed the country, and an economy that had been a Latin American success story showed serious signs of decline. © LUIS GANDARILLAS/AFP via Getty Images Employees of the Electoral Court, guarded by the Military Police, load a truck with electoral material to be distributed for Sunday's general election, in La Paz, on October 16, 2020.

Violence erupted between former Bolivian president Evo Morales 's loyalists and police in the capital La Paz. The clashes broke out hours after the interim president Jeanine Añez sworn in. Morales is in self-exile in Mexico after resigning under pressure from the army by says he may return to Bolivia .

Bolivia 's interim president Jeanine Anez has said that exiled ex - president Evo Morales would have to 'answer to justice' over election irregularities and Morales , who led Bolivia since 2006, resigned under pressure on Sunday after weeks of protests and violence following an October 20 election that

Morales' determination to run for reelection last year alienated even many admirers alarmed about possible president-for-life aspirations. But Morales maintains a strong base of support, especially among the indigenous, poor and working-class multitudes who constitute the majority of Bolivians.

The pleas from Añez and other Morales opponents have not negated the appeal of the ex-president, who in 2005 became the first indigenous Bolivian elected to the presidency.

The current front-running presidential contender, according to polls, is Luis Arce, 57, an ex-banker who served as Morales’ economic minister.

In his campaign closure this week , Arce took to the streets of El Alto, a working-class and largely indigenous suburb of the capital, a Morales stronghold.

“We have lived through a bloody coup, a nightmare in which the people have suffered pain, mourning and hunger,” Arce told the crowd. “Racism, discrimination and arrogance have returned. ... They thought they would kill MAS, but in Alto we say, ‘Here we are! Alive!’ “

Opponents dismiss Arce as a puppet of Morales, who, even in exile, remains the leader of the MAS, the country’s largest unified political force.

While polling in Bolivia can be erratic, a recent poll showed Arce ahead with about one-third of the presidential vote in a field of five candidates. His closest challenger is ex-President Carlos Mesa, 67, of the center-right Citizen Community party, with almost one-quarter of the vote, according to the polling firm Ciesmori.

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Bolivian electoral law mandates that a presidential candidate must win a majority, or at least garner 40% of the vote with a 10-point lead over his or her nearest challenger, to be declared a first-round winner.

Mesa is counting on support from the many Bolivians alienated by the havoc of last year’s voting, both on Sunday and in a second prospective round of voting in November, in which MAS opponents would presumably unify.

The pandemic has forced several postponements of the election slated for Sunday.

“I just hope that democracy triumphs in these elections,” said Johnny Antezana, 38, a businessman here. “We have suffered an institutional crisis. And and I don’t think the people can support more uncertainty.”

From his exile in Argentina, where he has been granted political refugee status, Morales has voiced confidence in a resounding triumph for his political protégé, Arce. He has vowed to return to Bolivia “the next day” after his ally’s projected victory, despite arrest warrants against him for sedition and terrorism.

“I am sure, brothers and sisters, that you will not abandon me,” Morales said last month in a message to fellow Bolivians. “We are going to win again.”

Times staff writer McDonnell reported from Mexico City and special correspondent Padilla from La Paz.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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Many Americans are concerned about the risk of catching COVID-19 at the polls. They also worry about their vote being counted.The 2020 election is on track for record voter turnout as the nation battles the COVID-19 pandemic, a fight for racial equality and an economic recession. More than 35 million people have already voted.

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