Latin America & Caribbean

Bolivia elections: Will Evo Morales get a fourth term in office?

A composite photo shows the top three presidential candidates in Bolivia: Evo Morales, Carlos Mesa and Óscar Ortiz Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The three top candidates are (from left to right) Evo Morales, Carlos Mesa and Óscar Ortiz

Many young Bolivians heading to the polls on Sunday to vote in a general election have no memory of anyone but President Evo Morales leading the Andean nation.

The indigenous politician is running for a fourth term in office and if he wins, he will be in power until 2025.

His critics say he has ignored a referendum in which Bolivians voted to restrict presidents to two terms.

And yet, opinion polls suggest he has a wide lead over his nearest rival.

Who is in the running?

Incumbent Evo Morales is again running for his Movement for Socialism (Mas) party.

Evo Morales at the  United Nations in New York on 24 September, 2019.
EPA
Evo Morales

  • 13 years, 9 monthsin power

  • 38 yearsleading the coca growers' union

  • 54%of the votes won in 2005 election

  • 64%of the votes won in 2009 election

  • 61%of votes won in 2014 election

Source: BBC Monitoring

Read our profile of Evo Morales: Fourteen years and counting

Mr Morales' main rival for the presidency is Carlos Mesa, who is running for the Civic Community (Comunidad Ciudadana) political alliance.

Presidential candidate Carlos Mesa speaks during a campaign closing rally in La Paz, Bolivia, October 15, 2019.
Reuters
Carlos Mesa

  • 19 monthsas president between 2003 and 2005

  • Came to powerafter the then-president resigned

  • Journalistwho worked in print and TV

  • Film buffwho founded the Bolivian Film Institute

  • Maritime disputerepresented Bolivia at the International Court of Justice

Source: BBC Monitoring

Third in opinion polls is Senator Óscar Ortiz, who is standing for the "Bolivia dice no" (Bolivia says no) coalition.

Senator and presidential candidate Óscar Ortiz holds up documents in the Senate
Reuters
Óscar Ortiz

  • 8 yearsrepresenting Santa Cruz in the Senate

  • Businessmanturned conservative politician

  • 14 yearsspent working for Santa Cruz's chamber of commerce

  • 50 years of agehe is the youngest of the top three presidential candidates

Source: BBC Monitoring

How does it work?

Voting is compulsory for adult Bolivians, unless they are over 70 years old. The 7.3 million Bolivians eligible to vote will elect a president and a vice-president, 130 members of the chamber of deputies and 36 senators.

In order to win in the first round on 20 October, a presidential candidate has to either gain more than 50% of the votes, or 40% with a 10-percentage-point lead over his nearest rival.

If no candidate reaches that percentage of votes, a second and final round will be held on 15 December in which the first and second placed candidates will run against each other.

What are the main issues?

Many of those who took part in anti-government protests in the weeks leading up to the election said they opposed President Morales for two reasons: his environmental policies and his disregard for the result of a referendum held in February 2016.

Forest fires which destroyed four million hectares of land in eastern Bolivia made many voters question whether a decree passed by President Morales had contributed to the blazes.

The decree quadrupled the amount of land farmers are allowed to clear for agricultural production.

Many residents of Santa Cruz province, one of the worst affected by the fires, were also angry at the president for refusing to declare a national emergency over the fires.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Many Bolivians say they are still angry that the results of the 2016 referendum were not respected

But the placards and signs many of the protesters held aloft also suggested that anger was still running high about the fact that President Morales bypassed the results of the 2016 referendum on term limits.

A majority of Bolivians voted "no" to Mr Morales's suggestion to ditch the presidential term limits but Mr Morales's Mas party took the matter to the constitutional court, which ruled in the president's favour, allowing him to stand for a fourth consecutive term.

Many voters say that they have not forgiven President Morales for not sticking to his promise that he would respect the outcome of the referendum.

Challenges ahead

However, many indigenous Bolivians who were lifted out of poverty during the time Mr Morales was in power continue to back him for president.

They say Mr Mesa, his main rival, embodies the white Bolivian elite and question his commitment to the poor.

Mr Mesa argues that with oil and gas revenue declining, Bolivia needs to be "more sensible and rational" in the way it spends its money, especially as the country has a fiscal deficit of 7.8% of GDP.

But his message of curtailing spending has not proven popular with poor voters who have seen steady improvements to their quality of life under President Morales.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Óscar Ortiz says he stands for a new generation of Bolivians

Mr Ortiz, meanwhile, has asked voters to ignore the opinion polls which have him trailing way behind Mr Morales and Mr Mesa.

At his closing rally, he urged his supporters to cast their vote not for "the old Bolivia" which he claims Mr Mesa and Mr Morales stand for, but for "the Bolivian youth which will guarantee that Bolivia does not return to the past".

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