Former exiled president Evo Morales signaled on Monday that he intended to return to Bolivia after his left-wing heir Luis Arce’s celebrating victory in the presidential election.
Arce, a former finance minister under Morales, claimed victory in Sunday’s election after initial polls suggested a crushing victory over centrist rival Carlos Mesa.
Mesa admitted Monday, saying Arce’s 20-point margin of victory was “very strong and very clear.”
“It is up to us, as appropriate, for those of us who believe in democracy … to recognize that there has been a winner in this election,” said Mesa, a former president.
The polls delivered 52 percent of the vote to Arce, while Mesa mustered only 31.5 percent – upward predictions that he would force another round of runoff in November.
Private voting companies showed that Arce won by the same margin. Official results are expected to take days.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, a record 87 percent of Bolivians voted, according to the Supreme Electoral Court, which exceeded the average turnout of 80 percent.
Arce, 57, said his victory was a “return to democracy” for the divided South American country.
“We have regained democracy and we want to regain stability and social peace,” he said.
Eyes on Morales
Much attention is now focused on Morales, whose authoritarian 14-year-old grip on power left a bitter aftertaste for many Bolivians outside his largely indigenous Movement for Socialism (MAS) party.
“Sooner or later we will return to Bolivia, it is not up for debate,” Morales told a news conference in Buenos Aires.
“My great wish is to return to Bolivia and get into my region. It’s a matter of time,” said Morales, who was thrown out of protests after his victory in the 2019 election was annulled due to rigging allegations .
Morales withdrew on November 10 after losing support from the armed forces in the midst of the crisis, which left 36 dead and hundreds wounded.
Frustrated in his attempt to secure a fourth term, he originally fled to Mexico, but has since settled in neighboring Argentina after left-wing Alberto Fernandez won the election there.
Morales thanked Fernandez and Mexican President Manuel Andres Lopez Obrador for their support.
He also paid tribute to other left-wing leaders, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and former Uruguayan President Jose Mujica.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez praised a “people’s victory” that would “return justice and well-being to the fraternal Bolivian people. Viva Evo!”
Morales said he had even received a call from Argentine Pope Francis on Monday.
“I felt like I was not alone,” he said.
The office of UN chief Antonio Guterres praised “highly participatory and peaceful” elections and called on political leaders to work together for national reconciliation.
Arce was credited as the architect of the country’s economic miracle under Morales, who became the country’s first indigenous president in 2006.
Over the next decade, he lowered poverty levels and modernized the country’s infrastructure, boosted by the demand for Bolivia’s natural resources.
The election, which was postponed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic, was the first in 20 years not to have Morales, although he remained a threatening presence.
Arce’s opponents had warned that a MAS victory would herald the return of the ex-president arrested in Bolivia on terror charges after the right-wing caretaker government accused him of leading anti-government protests from exile.
He is also being investigated for alleged “rape and human trafficking” due to allegations that he had relationships with underage girls.
Morales dismissed the allegations Monday, saying they were “part of a dirty war” being waged against him.
Arce’s victory will end the annual interim presidency of conservative Jeanine Anez, who withdrew from the race a month ago due to criticism rose with her handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has left more than 8,400 people dead and infected 130,000.
Her government has been accused of intimidating MAS party supporters and Morales employees.
Washington, which saw Anez’s government as a key regional ally, said it was awaiting official results “but President Trump and the United States look forward to working with the one Bolivians choose,” a State Department spokesman told AFP.
Landlocked Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in the region despite its rich natural resources, is experiencing its worst economic crisis in 40 years, with GDP expected to contract by 6.2 percent by 2020.