The Bolivian socialist candidate Arce will win the election directly, the exit poll shows

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Bolivia’s socialist candidate Luis Arce looks set to win the country’s presidential election without the need for a run – off, an unofficial count on Monday put Evo Morale’s left party on the brink of a return to power.

The quick count from pollster Ciesmori, released by Bolivian TV channel Unitel around midnight Sunday, showed that Arce had 52.4 percent of valid votes, more than 20 percentage points above second-place rival Carlos Mesa, who had 31.5 percent.

The official count had reached only five percent of the votes cast, and the exit polls had been delayed hours after the end of the vote, leaving Bolivians in the dark about the election result. A candidate needs 40 percent of the vote and a 10-point lead to win directly.

“All the data so far indicates that there has been a victory for the movement against socialism,” Morales, who hand-picked Arce and has been a close adviser to the campaign, told a news conference in Buenos Aires.

Arce, a former finance minister under Morales, sounded confident of victory without explicitly claiming victory at his own press conference shortly after midnight in the Bolivian capital La Paz.

“We have to work and we will resume the process of change without hatred,” Arce told reporters. “We will learn and we will overcome the mistakes we have made (before) as the Movement against Socialism party.”

“Very grateful for the support and trust of the Bolivian people,” Arce wrote on Twitter on Monday. “We have regained democracy and we will regain stability and social peace. United with dignity and sovereignty.”

Carried out in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Sunday’s vote was seen as a test of democracy in the Andean nation, after last year’s elections were canceled following accusations of voting, triggering bloody protests and leading to Morales’ resignation after nearly 14 years in power .

Jeanine Anez, the conservative interim president who took over in a power vacuum last year, said it looked like Arce was the election winner and congratulated her.

The election result, if confirmed, is chastening for the country’s conservatives and is likely to bolster the image of Morales, the original socialist leader whose shadow still haunts the country despite living in exile in Argentina since last year’s controversial election.

Morales return?

Morales was an iconic and long-standing figure in a wave of left-wing presidents in the region for the past two decades, and the Bolivian election is a litmus test of left-wing power in Latin America.

“The vote is the most important since Bolivia returned to democracy in 1982,” Carlos Valverde, a political analyst, said earlier in the day.

On Sunday, residents of La Paz, a city sharply divided by class and race, had voted peacefully, but faced long queues to avoid overcrowding within polling stations. Many had said they were concerned that the election result could lead to more violence.

“I hope that everything will be peaceful and that the next government can also deliver the solutions that all Bolivians hope for,” said David Villarroel, who voted in La Paz.

( Jowharwith REUTERS and AFP)