La Paz: The government of Evo Morales urged patience following a referendum that would allow the Bolivian president to seek a fourth term, saying the results were tied despite media projections to the contrary.
Local media projected late Sunday that Bolivians had rejected a move to change the constitution and deny Morales a bid to seek a fourth term, potentially extending his presidency until 2025.
Voters had their say on a constitutional amendment that would allow Morales and Vice President Alvaro Garcia to seek another five-year term when their current one ends in 2020. Both have been in power since 2006.
Morales lost the referendum vote 52.3 per cent to 47.7 per cent, according to unofficial figures cited on private ATB television. Unitel television gave the “no” vote as 51 per cent to 49 per cent.
Not so fast, Garcia said.
“We are facing a very clear technical tie, and it is highly probable that these figures will drastically change” as the official count proceeds, Garcia said, signalling that media projections showing that a no vote had prevailed could be wrong.
Garcia said that the rural vote — where Morales has most support — still needs to be counted, as do votes cast by Bolivians living abroad.
“So it would be better to hold your enthusiasm and calmly wait for results,” Garcia told reporters. “All your celebration may well turn into weeping.”
Morales had said he expected to see 70 per cent in support of his bid, so a loss would be the worst — and first — national political defeat for Morales, who has led the landlocked Andean nation since 2006.
Voting Sunday was mandatory, and some 6.5 million Bolivians were eligible to cast ballots.
Opposition figures however were celebrating based on the media projections.
“Bolivia said no!” declared Santa Cruz Governor Ruben Costas. Samuel Doria Medina — defeated twice by Morales in presidential elections — said the vote “buried” plans to have single party rule in Bolivia.
Last month, Morales became the longest serving president since Bolivia’s independence from Spain in 1825 — a rare accomplishment in a country known for military coups and shaky, short-lived governments.
Now 56, Morales is also Bolivia’s first democratically elected president of indigenous heritage.
He has overseen robust economic growth in Bolivia, but opponents accuse him of presiding over corruption and investing in flashy infrastructure projects at the expense of health and education.
Since taking office the first time in 2006, Morales has been re-elected twice, most recently in 2014 to a five-year term that ends in 2020.
Under the current constitution adopted in 2009, sitting presidents can only seek re-election once.
But Bolivia’s Supreme Court ruled that Morales’s first term was exempt from the rule, allowing him to run again in 2014.
Last month, he became the longest serving president.
His politics blend the indigenous power movement with environmentalism and the “21st-century socialism” preached by other Latin American leftist leaders.
He has nationalised the oil, gas, mining and telecommunications sectors and rolled out welfare grants for the elderly, children and expecting mothers.
Bolivia’s mineral- and gas-rich economy has more than tripled in size during his decade in office.
Despite plunging prices for its oil and gas, Bolivia’s economy grew 4.8 per cent last year, one of the strongest rates in Latin America.
A close ally of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, Morales tested his luck at a time of disenchantment elsewhere in Latin America with longtime leftist leaders such as Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro; Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff; and Argentina’s now ex-president Cristina Kirchner.
Morales’s most recent, and perhaps most damaging, scandal relates to charges of favouritism shown to CAMC, a Chinese engineering company that won the bid for a major railroad expansion project.
One of the top managers at CAMC’s La Paz office is Gabriela Zapata, 28 — Morales’s former girlfriend.
Morales is single and has recruited his older sister to perform the functions of first lady.
However, he recently admitted to having a child with Zapata during a two-year relationship that began in 2005 when she was 18. Morales said the child later died.
The president rejected corruption allegations as “a hoax by the US embassy” to discredit him, and insists that he has “nothing to hide.”
In an attempt to clear his name, Morales has asked state accounting authorities to investigate the process by which the government signed contracts worth $576 million with CAMC.
Congress has also opened a probe into the allegations.