Latin America & Caribbean

Bolivia's Morales admits loss in referendum on term limits

Bolivia's President Evo Morales sings his national anthem at a signing ceremony for the expansion of a road that connects the capital with the nearby city of El Alto, in La Paz, Bolivia, Monday on 22 February, 2016 Image copyright AP
Image caption Evo Morales wanted the constitution changed so he could run for a fourth term

Bolivia's President Evo Morales has accepted defeat in a referendum which aimed to change the constitution to allow him to run for another term.

Mr Morales said he had "lost a small battle, but not the war".

With 99.7% of the votes counted, 51.3% of voters had rejected the proposal, while 48.7% had voted for it.

Evo Morales has been in power since 2006 and his current term, his third, runs out in 2020.

'Dirty war'

"The struggle does not end here, just because the 'no' has won," President Morales said.

He also spoke about a "dirty war" which he said had been conducted against him in the run-up to the referendum.

The president's approval ratings had fallen after recent allegations that he used his influence to favour a Chinese construction firm which employs his former girlfriend.

Mr Morales has rejected the allegations and has ordered an investigation into how the contracts were awarded.

"We respect the results, it is part of democracy," he said.

Mr Morales had said on Tuesday that he wanted to wait until the full election results were announced to comment.

Exit polls had given the "no" campaign a wide lead after polls closed on Sunday, but that lead dwindled to 2.6 percentage points as results came in from rural areas, where support for Mr Morales is strongest.

Mr Morales is the longest-serving Bolivian president since the Andean country gained independence from Spain in 1825.

But many voters said they felt changing the constitution to allow Mr Morales to serve beyond the 19 consecutive years in office he will reach at the end of his term would go too far.

Evo Morales in office

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Evo Morales waves to supporters in Oruro in October 2005 during his presidential campaign
  1. First elected president in 2005: Began by renationalising the country's oil and gas industries and boosting social spending. Won a referendum in August 2008 on whether he should stay in office, and then a few months later a referendum approved his plans for a new constitution
  2. Re-elected in 2009: His second term followed a landslide win, and Mr Morales continued to pursue left-wing policies
  3. Again re-elected in 2014: He was able to run again despite the 2009 constitution limiting presidents to two consecutive terms in office. The Constitutional Court ruled his first term should not count because it had not taken place under the new constitution. His current terms ends in 2020

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