LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) – Evo Morales easily won an unprecedented third term as Bolivia’s president today on the strength of the economic and political stability brought by his government, according to unofficial results.
Morales, a native Aymara from Bolivia’s poor, wind-swept Andean plateau, received 60 per cent of the vote against 25 per cent for cement magnate Samuel Doria Medina, the top vote-getter among four challengers, according to a quick count of 84 per cent of the voting stations by the Ipsos firm for ATB television.
Partial official results were not expected until after midnight local time.
Morales’ supporters ran out into the streets to celebrate the win. In a victory speech from the balcony of the presidential palace in La Paz, Morales dedicated his victory to Cuba’s Fidel Castro and the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez.
He won eight of Bolivia’s nine states, including the former opposition stronghold of Santa Cruz, an agribusiness centre in the eastern lowlands where he polled 57 per cent, according to Ipsos.
While known internationally for his anti-imperialist and socialist rhetoric, the 55-year-old coca growers’ union leader is widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia’s natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses.
A boom in commodities prices increased export revenues nine-fold and the country has accumulated $15.5 billion in international reserves. Economic growth has averaged 5 per cent annually, well above the regional average.
A half a million people have put poverty behind them since Bolivia’s first indigenous president first took office in 2006, with per capital gross national income up from $1 000 that year to $2 550 in 2013, according to the World Bank.
Public works projects abound, including a satellite designed to deliver Internet to rural schools, a fertilizer plant and La Paz’s gleaming new cable car system. His newest promise: to light up La Paz with nuclear power.
“I voted for Evo Morales because he doesn’t forget the elderly,” said Maria Virginia Velasquez, a 70-year-old widow. Universal old-age pensions – Velasquez gets $36 a month – are among the benefits instituted by Morales that have boosted his popularity.
Morales had sought today to improve on his previous best showing – 64 per cent in 2009 – and to maintain a two-thirds control of Bolivia’s Senate and assembly. That would let him change the constitution, which restricts presidents to two five-year terms, so he can run again.