Sunday, December 18, 2005

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia — Following Bolivia’s highly polarized election campaign, initial results indicate that no candidate has scored the necessary majority to win by popular vote. It is feared that this may lead to new unrest in a country where two presidents have been deposed through violent protests since 2003.

Evo Morales, leader of the Indian-based Movement to Socialism (MAS), which is supported by peasant coca growers and has strong ties with Venezuela and Cuba, was in the lead with 45 percent of the vote, according to early exit surveys. MAS announced that Cuban leader Fidel Castro would be invited to Mr. Morales’ inauguration, symbolizing the ascent to power by long-marginalized Indian populations along the Andean belt, and the serious erosion of U.S. influence in the region.

Although Mr. Morales is expected to maintain a 10-point lead over his conservative rival, Jorge Quiroga of Podemos, the MAS candidate is likely to come up short of the overall majority needed to automatically take the presidency.

Late yesterday, Mr. Quiroga conceded defeat. “I congratulate the candidates of MAS that have carried out a good campaign,” he said, as reported by Reuters news agency.

The final choice then would fall on a divided Congress. MAS leaders emphatically rule out a coalition with Podemos or any of the smaller parties, National Unity of businessman Samuel Doria Medina and Revolutionary Nationalist Movement of Michiaki Nagatani. Mr. Quiroga says he wants a runoff with Mr. Morales. MAS also is expected to encounter problems in Bolivia’s different departments, which are independently electing local governors for the first time. Podemos candidates are favored to win at least half of the governorships.

Although the voting yesterday was largely peaceful, it was feared that in the event of prolonged political wrangling and congressional gridlock, MAS may again resort to mobilizing street mobs to impose its will. A close Morales aide said that if the other parties block MAS, the country will “explode.”

Mr. Morales pledged to “respect the will of the Congress” as international observers gathered in Bolivia over the weekend. In an interview a week earlier, he had expressed disdain for parliament.

“We will not rule with Congress, but with the people. The Congress lacks legitimacy because it has corrupt parties,” he said.

MAS leaders have given mixed messages throughout the election campaign. Its chief senator, Roman Loaiza, told the press that “we will take power the good way or the bad way.”

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