Disputed victory in Bolivia

After a count that was interrupted twice, Bolivia’s electoral commission on Friday finally declared president Evo Morales the winner of the previous Sunday’s presidential election.

Morales was credited with 47.1% of the first round vote: not a majority, but provided he was above 40% he only needed to be ten points clear of the runner-up. (See my previous report here.) And he was – just. His main challenger, Carlos Mesa, finished on 36.5%, a gap of slightly under 10.6%.

You can check the official results here, but be careful: the default view just gives you the numbers from within Bolivia, and on that basis Morales’s lead is not quite enough, at 46.6% to 38.8%. From the menu at the top left you have to switch from “Bolivia” to “Mundo” (world), to get the total including votes cast outside of the country (“Extranjero”).

The external votes come from more than 30 countries, but most of them are very small numbers. Ninety per cent of them come from just four countries: Argentina, Spain, Brazil and Chile. Bolivians in Spain and Chile favored Mesa, but Argentina and Brazil both produced huge majorities for Morales, leading the external vote in total to break almost 33 points in his favor, 59.8% to 27.1%.

It’s interesting to also check the preliminary results, available here. They haven’t been updated since last Tuesday, at which point they were 95.6% counted and Morales was even closer to being forced to a runoff, leading by just 10.1%.

Remote rural polling places are often the last to come in, and the president’s support is strongest in rural areas, so it’s not entirely implausible that the last few per cent’s worth of counting would make that much difference. But there’s an understandable suspicion that the electoral commission was under instructions to rustle up some extra Morales votes.

Morales, who has been in office since 2006, has invited foreign observers to conduct an audit of the vote, but it seems unlikely that this will mollify his opponents.

One consolation for the opposition, however, is that Morales appears to have lost his majority in the lower house of congress, the Chamber of Deputies. His Movement for Socialism has lost 24 of its 88 seats, to finish with two seats fewer than the combined opposition total: 54 for Mesa’s coalition, Civic Community, nine for the Christian Democrats and three for the Social Democrats.

Morales’s party retains a narrow majority in the Senate, however, with 19 of the 36 seats. All round, a close election and a bitterly divided country.

Results to come soon from Argentina and Uruguay.


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