Bolivians recalled to ballot after failure of 2019 presidential poll

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Bolivians are called on to elect a new president on Sunday, after the failure of the 2019 ballot marred by suspicions of fraud, at the end of a polarized campaign, marked by the pandemic and the deterioration of the economy.

The 7.3 million voters are forced to return to the polls to decide between six candidates, a year after the confusion which surrounded the results giving the winner the president in office, Evo Morales, who was running for a fourth term.

The opposition cried out fraud, the streets were stormed and the army finally let go of the first indigenous president of Bolivia (2006-2019), who fled to Mexico and then to Argentina.

An interim president, Jeanine Añez, was appointed and the institutions continued to function, as the country faced the coronavirus pandemic that claimed 8,000 lives.

Although in exile, Evo Morales, emblematic socialist leader of Bolivia, friend of the powers of Cuba and Venezuela, continued to carry all his weight in the campaign, dubbing his dolphin, his former Minister of the Economy Luis Arce , favorite in the latest polls (33.6%).

Considered the architect of Bolivia’s “economic miracle”, he formed the favorite duo with the former centrist President Carlos Mesa (2003-2005), credited with 26.8% of voting intentions.

Mr. Mesa, journalist, historian and writer, was a candidate in the 2019 election. He came in second.

” Corruption “

The electoral campaign focused on the economy of this country of 11 million inhabitants where growth has slowed since 2014 and the public deficit is widening.

Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America, despite its vast natural resources, mainly gas, lithium, iron and copper. It has the highest proportion of Native Americans on the continent.

“Bolivia must return to the path of stability, economic growth and social justice,” Luis Arce said. He highlighted the glorious years he was in office (2006-2017, 2019), when the country experienced an average annual growth of 4.9% between 2004 and 2014.

The nationalization of hydrocarbons in 2006 increased the gross domestic product from 9.5 to 40.8 billion dollars and reduced poverty from 60% to 37%, according to official data.

For Carlos Mesa, no credit goes to the Movement towards Socialism (MAS), created by Morales and today led by Arce, but to a flourishing commodity market which has further fueled “corruption”.

While these abundant resources have enabled the state to better distribute wealth, structural economic reforms to ensure sustained growth have been lacking, Mesa said. And since the prices of raw materials fall, the deficit is growing.

“We are very close to a serious economic crisis,” warns economist Roberto Laserna, from the Fundacion Milenio think tank, to AFP.

With an announced drop in GDP of 6.2% in 2020, according to the IMF, the future president, whoever he is, will be faced with major financial constraints.

On the international scene, the question of normalizing relations with the United States, which has had no ambassador in the country since 2008, is pending.

Third man

As in 2019, Mr Morales’ rivals failed to unite in this campaign.

Interim Conservative President Jeanine Añez threw in the towel, as did ex-President Jorge Quiroga, with withdrawals benefiting Mr. Mesa.

The polls place in third place Luis Fernando Camacho, an ultra-conservative Catholic leader, defender of white elites, who during the post-election demonstrations had stepped up interventions to demand the departure of Morales.

He is however credited with only 13.9% of the voting intentions, but his instructions in the event of a second round could be invaluable.

Voters are also called upon to renew Parliament, dominated by the MAS.

The Constitution declares winner in the first round the candidate who obtains the absolute majority or 40% of the votes with an advantage of 10 points on the second. Otherwise a second round will take place on November 29.

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