Bolivia election: Tension rises as Morales’ lead expands

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Protests have intensified in Bolivia as the incumbent president, Evo Morales, has again reached the lead needed to win the presidential election outright in the first round.

With 98.4% of the votes counted, he had a 10.1-percentage point lead over his main rival, Carlos Mesa.

He needs a 10 percentage point advantage to stave off a second round.

The electoral authorities have been heavily criticised for delays in the count and Mr Mesa has cried foul.

Why is the size of the lead so key?

At around midnight local time (04:00 GMT), the official website showing the vote count suggested that President Morales had increased his lead over second-placed Carlos Mesa to more than 10-percentage points.

That figure is key because if any candidate gains more than 40% of the vote while having a lead of 10 percentage points or more over his closest rival, there will not be a second round on 15 December.

While Mr Morales, who has comfortably won the past three presidential elections, was always tipped to win the first round, Mr Mesa had hoped the difference between the two would be slim enough to warrant a second round.

Evo Morales at the  United Nations in New York on 24 September, 2019.

EPAEvo Morales

  • 13 years, 9 monthsin power
  • 38 yearsleading the coca growers’ union
  • 54%of the votes won in 2005 election
  • 64%of the votes won in 2009 election
  • 61%of votes won in 2014 election

Source: BBC Monitoring

Mr Mesa calculates that his chances of winning in a second round would be higher, especially if those candidates who did not make it to the second round throw their support behind him.

Whether or not there is a second round could therefore well determine who will govern Bolivia for the next five years.

Why is tension running so high?

Hours after polling booths closed on Sunday, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal released the first results of the quick count.

At the time it looked like there would be a run-off, prompting celebrations in the campaign camp of Mr Mesa.

People read front pages of newspapers after the presidential election, in La Paz, Bolivia, on October 21, 201
Image captionOn Monday morning, newspapers led with news of a likely second round

But then the website with the quick count stopped being updated for 24 hours, prompting electoral observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) to express their concern.

When the quick count was finally updated on Monday evening, Mr Morales had a lead of 10.12 percentage points.

The OAS electoral mission called the change “drastic and hard to explain”.

“We hope that the result of the final calculation will adhere to the will of the voters expressed at the poll,” the OAS electoral observation mission said.

What’s happened since?

The detailed count – rather than the quick count – of the votes has been proceeding very slowly with Mr Morales steadily widening his advantage over Mr Mesa.

Bolivian presidential candidate Carlos Mesa looks on at a protest in La Paz, Bolivia on 22 October, 2019.
Image captionOpposition candidate Carlos Mesa (left) says the count is fraudulent

But after the mysterious delay in the quick count, many Bolivians say they have no more confidence in the electoral authorities.

The vice-president of the electoral board, Antonio Costas, resigned from his post saying the decision by the six-member panel to halt the quick count had been “foolish”.

The United States, the European Union and Brazil have all expressed their concerns and the OAS recommended during an emergency meeting on Wednesday that a second round be held regardless of the result of the first round.

What’s going on in the streets?

There have been protests and marches, some of which turned violent, in cities across Bolivia ever since the quick count indicates an outright win for Mr Morales.

Firefighters work outside the Bolivian electoral office set on fire by protesters on 21 October, 2019.
Image captionA number of electoral offices have been set alight
Supporters of Bolivian President Evo Morales march in La Paz, Bolivia on 23 October
Image captionSupporters of Mr Morales have also taken to the streets to make their voices heard

A number of electoral offices have been set alight and opponents of Mr Morales launched a general strike on Wednesday.

There have also been clashes between supporters and opponents of Mr Morales as well as marches in support of the president.

How has Mr Morales reacted?

Mr Morales has been defiant. In a televised speech on Wednesday he said he had called a news conference “to denounce, in front of the Bolivian people and the entire world, that a coup d’etat is in progress”.

Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks during a news conference at the presidential palace La Casa Grande del Pueblo in La Paz, Bolivia, October 23, 2019.
Image captionPresident Morales warned that a coup d’etat was underway

He blamed “the right” for the coup, which he said had “international support”.

He also called on Bolivians “to defend democracy”. He said he remained confident that he would win outright in the first round.

“Our triumph has always been with the votes from the rural areas with the votes of the indigenous movement.”

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