PREVIEW: Morales almost certain of re-election in Bolivia

Buenos Aires/La Paz – A year ago, Bolivia seemed haunted by the ghosts of civil war, with deep divisions between east and west, town and country, between President Evo Morales’ supporters and opponents. In the run-up to Sunday’s general election, little remains of last year’s political hostility: four years after taking office, Bolivia’s first president of indigenous descent is poised for re-election with a first-round majority.

Recent opinion polls by three different firms show the left-wing populist Morales with at least 52-per-cent support, a lead of 34 percentage points or more over his closest rival, right-wing candidate Manfred Reyes Villa.

If those numbers are repeated at the ballot box, Morales, 50, will be re-elected to a five-year term.

The opposition has been campaigning more to prevent an absolute majority for Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) in the Senate, because the party is all but assured of a majority in the lower house of Congress.

Electoral authorities cast a shadow over the election by initially refusing to register more than 400,000 people, based on doubts about their identities. The tribunal eventually gave in to pressure – including long queues and protests – and registered the voters in question.

Morales had accused the court of wanting “to create a conflict” and had said that the opposition was “scared” of the voters.

The number of Morales supporters has grown even in the eastern province of Santa Cruz, the wealthiest in empoverished Bolivia. Helped by increased investment in agriculture and manufacturing, the region now generates almost a quarter of the whole country’s gross domestic product.

Morales has made the formerly restive province the focus of his campaign.

He toured the city of Santa Cruz on a tractor, with thousands of supporters in his wake. That stunt would have been unthinkable last year during a rebellion against Morales and the central government organized by the Bolivian right. At the time, the president could not even set foot in the city for fear of unrest.

Even Santa Cruz Governor Ruben Costas – one of Morales’ bitterest rivals back then – now greeted him as “my president.”

Yet his first four years in power were hardly easy.

Bolivia’s wealthy minority – mostly descendants of European immigrants – deeply resented Morales’ move to reform society for the benefit of the indigenous majority, which for centuries had been impoverished and denied opportunities.

During his first term, Morales’ greatest triumph was the implementation of a new constitution. The MAS touted additional successes with nationalization of the oil and natural gas industries and redistribution of farmland.

The opposition, on the other hand, appeared to do little to contain the Morales phenomenon.

Reyes Villa criticized the president’s policies as “terror democracy” and claimed to be “politically persecuted” by the government, which allegedly planned to have him arrested after the election.

As to Morales’ high approval ratings, Reyes Villa argued that voters were being forced to vote for the MAS, but he provided no evidence.

The opposition even ran out of ideas to make the most of Morales’ close relations with firebrand Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The Jewish community in Bolivia was almost the only group to protest last month’s visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly denied the Holocaust and called for the state of Israel to be wiped off the map.

Source: EarthTimes


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