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Polls point to victory for ‘no’ vote in Bolivia re-election referendum

Government says figures show “technical tie” in ballot to decide if Morales can run again

Referendum Bolivia 2016
A Bolivian woman casts her ballot in Patamanta. MARTIN ALIPAZ

Bolivian President Evo Morales has narrowly lost a referendum held on Sunday that would have permitted him to run in elections again in 2019, according to two exit polls.

Although officials are still counting the results, two of the country’s most reliable polling firms – Ipsos and Mori – agreed that the “no” vote received more than 50%, while the “yes” vote received between 47% and 49%.

It could take hours or days before official results are announced, said Vice President Álvaro García Linera.

If the outcome is confirmed, it would be the first time in 10 years that Morales has lost a vote.

The referendum – which has divided the country and left many people undecided until the last moment over how they would cast their ballots – was held to ask Bolivians if they were in favor of changing the Constitution to allow Morales to stay on.

“The original idea was to modify the Constitution for an indefinite re-election, but we accepted that it would only be until 2025”

Evo Morales

If he wins a new opportunity to run for re-election, the Bolivian leader could in effect remain as president until 2025. He was first voted into office in 2006.

An Aymara Indian, Morales, 56, has been credited with implementing numerous social programs in Bolivia and helping many escape poverty. But corruption and other scandals affecting his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party have left many of his voters disenchanted in recent years.

“No one has been abusive in trying to change the Constitution,” Morales said in an EL PAÍS interview before the vote. “It seems like you don’t understand. I called together a meeting of the social Cabinet about eight months ago and the arguments presented were that this can’t stop now; the neoliberals cannot return.

“The original concept was to modify the Constitution for an indefinite re-election of the president. I talked about it with Álvaro [García Linera] and we accepted that it would only be until 2025.”

While the opposition celebrated the preliminary results, Vice President García Linera called them “a technical tie.”

If the outcome is confirmed, it would be the first time in 10 years that Morales has lost a vote

“It is highly probable that these figures will change drastically – no one has won and no one has lost yet,” he said. “We still don’t have the results from the Electoral Tribunal. We might have to wait hours or days – it could be tomorrow [Monday] or the day after. I don’t think that it will be longer than a week. We are talking about a difference of 110,000 votes.”

Bolivia’s Electoral Tribunal had said before the referendum that it would have the results within 48 hours.

Morales told EL PAÍS that he would not be disappointed if he lost the vote.

“I am prepared. With my own record, I will leave happy and content. I will never give up on my principles. I will continue to push for them from the sidelines,” he said, adding that “I would love to become a sports official; I love sports.”

English version by Martin Delfín.

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