Evo Morales loses bid to seek a fourth term

February 25, 2016

Morales, 56, has been in power for a decade, thanks largely to support from indigenous groups and grassroots organizations in one of the Americas’ poorest countries

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales has lost his bid to seek a fourth term, his first direct election defeat since taking office in 2006, according to official results released Tuesday.

Morales, 56, has been in power for a decade, thanks largely to support from indigenous groups and grassroots organizations in one of the Americas’ poorest countries.

While refusing to concede until the very end, Morales has promised to respect the official results of Sunday’s vote on a constitutional reform that would let him run for re-election to extend his time in office to 19 years. His current term ends in 2020.

With 99.72 percent of votes counted, electoral board president Katia Uriona said that 51.3 percent of voters cast “no” ballots in the referendum, against 48.7 percent voting “yes.”

Morales had insisted on waiting for full results to come in from rural areas where he has strong support, and from abroad.

Opposition supporters burst into celebration in La Paz and in anti-Morales bastions such as Potosi and Santa Cruz.

The bid ended with defeat in a referendum on letting him seek a fourth term in power after his current term ends in 2020. The near-definitive results of Sunday’s voting were released Tuesday.

The 56-year-old leftist leader has had an antagonistic relationship with the United States but has been widely loved at home.

Morales, a member of the Aymara indigenous group, grew up in a home with no running water or electricity in Orinoca, a village hidden in the Andes.

As a child he tended llamas and kindled a lifelong passion for football. When he grew up he played the trumpet in a folk band before becoming a coca leaf farmer.

Having got his start in politics as a coca-growers’ union leader, he defied centuries of discrimination against Bolivia’s indigenous communities to win a landslide election victory and start his first term as president in 2006.

He has presided over a period of strong economic growth and sweeping changes for the long-suffering indigenous majority. Bolivia’s mineral- and gas-rich economy has more than tripled in size during his decade in office.

“When I was sworn in as president in 2006, some of our opponents said, ‘Poor little Indian, let him have fun for a few months. He won’t be able to govern and after that we’ll get rid of him’,” he once said.

But with the opposition riven by infighting, Morales won resoundingly in three presidential elections: 54 percent of the vote in 2005, 64 percent in 2009 and 61 percent in 2014.

His politics blend the indigenous power movement with environmentalism and the “21st-century socialism” preached by other Latin American leftist leaders.

He has nationalized the oil, gas, mining and telecommunications sectors and rolled out welfare grants for the elderly, children and expecting mothers.

Despite plunging prices for its oil and gas, Bolivia’s economy grew 4.8 percent last year, one of the strongest rates in Latin America.

Morales has defended coca growers from the US “war on drugs” and cultivated ties with Cuba, Venezuela and Iran.

“The gringos don’t govern here – the Indians do,” he said last week.

A demonstrator shout slogans against Bolivian President Evo Morales, demanding he concede, while waiting for the official results of a constitutional referendum outside a vote counting center in La Paz, Bolivia  Photo: AP/Juan Karita

In 2008 he kicked the US Drug Enforcement Agency out of the country along with the US ambassador, accusing them of conspiring against his government.

Opponents accuse Morales of presiding over corruption and investing in flashy infrastructure projects at the expense of health and education.

A new constitution adopted in 2009 imposed a limit of one re-election for sitting presidents. But the Supreme Court ruled that Morales’s first term was exempt, letting him run in 2014.

His current term ends in 2020 and through the referendum was seeking a constitutional amendment which would have enabled him to serve until 2025.

But with 99.7 percent of the votes cast, the ‘no’ vote garnered 51.3 percent support and the ‘yes’ vote 48.7 percent.

Morales, who is unmarried, recently admitted having a child with businesswoman Gabriela Zapata during a two-year relationship that began in 2005 when she was 18.

Zapata is now a manager at Chinese construction firm CAMC and charges of favoritism ran wild when the company recently landed major Bolivian state contracts.

Morales had previously been mostly discreet about his private life.