By Raul Burgoa (AFP) – Dec 6, 2009
LA PAZ — Bolivian President Evo Morales easily won a second term in elections Sunday, according to early exit polls that showed him with a strengthened mandate to pursue socialist reforms deeply dividing his country.
Various polls suggested Morales, a 50-year-old former coca farmer who became Bolivia's first indigenous president in 2006, attracted 62-63 percent of the vote.
His nearest rival, conservative former governor Manfred Reyes Villa, was credited with just 23-24 percent, the polls said.
Official results based on a nearly complete tally were expected on Tuesday. They were expected to confirm voter intention surveys that predicted a landslide win for Morales.
If that is the case, the United States can also expect continued fraught relations with Morales, who last year threw out the US ambassador and the US Drug Enforcement Administration after accusing them of undermining his government.
What was less clear was the number of seats Morales's Movement Towards Socialism party grabbed in the 157-seat congress in the legislative part of the ballot.
Already dominant in the chamber of deputies, the party was looking to also seize control of the senate from the conservative opposition and secure a two-thirds majority that would deliver unfettered political freedom to Morales.
Much of Morales's support came from Bolivia's indigenous majority, which makes up 60 percent of the population and which is now embracing greater powers and pride after long being suppressed by the 40 percent minority of European descent.
The Bolivian leader's close ally and role model, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, predicted on Sunday that official results would confirm an "overwhelming" victory for Morales and his party.
Morales followed in Chavez's footsteps in organizing a referendum changing the constitution early this year that scrapped a previous one-term limit for presidents and allowed him to stand once more for reelection.
Like Chavez, he also hinted on Sunday he intended to stay on beyond the new five-year mandate he was likely given, to see through his "revolution" that he claimed would require decades of stewardship.
"If we talk of the new constitution... this is the first election of Evo Morales," he argued.
If Morales does stand and win in the next presidential election in 2014, he could stay in power until 2020.
Such a prospect would unsettle the non-indigenous part of the population which mostly inhabits the more prosperous lowlands in the eastern half of Bolivia, where economically vital natural gas deposits are located.
Non-indigenous Bolivians have been unable to counter Morales's reforms which have included limiting the size of ranches and other land holdings, and nationalizing the energy and telecommunications sectors.
They fear that a Congress dominated by Morales's party will now pass a law approved in the referendum that would give indigenous communities the right to self-rule. That has already been interpreted as permission to seize land from non-indigenous owners.
Tensions between the president's supporters and opponents spilled over into deadly violence late last year, though they have subsided somewhat since the January 2009 referendum that knocked Reyes Villa and other "rebel" governors from power.
Reyes Villa additionally faces a threat of jail on corruption charges voiced by Morales in the lead-up to the elections. The government said the former military officer -- who was ousted in a recall question on the referendum along with other "rebel" governors -- had bought a plane ticket to flee the country on Monday.
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