Bolivian president loses referendum to run for fourth term

Bolivian President has lost referendum to change constitution to remain in power for fourth term

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Demonstrators shout slogans against Bolivian President Evo Morales, demanding he concede, while waiting for the official results of a constitutional referendum outside a vote counting center in La Paz, Bolivia, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016.

Bolivian President Evo Morales has lost a referendum on whether he could change the constitution to re-run for fourth consecutive term in 2019 elections, the electoral commission confirmed late on Tuesday.

With 99.5 of the ballots counted, “no” beat “yes” by 51,3 percent to 48,7 percent, with a slim margin of 150,000 votes, electoral officials announced on Tuesday night.

Following the announcement of the results, celebrants poured into the streets in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, where opposition to Morales is strong. But fireworks also sounded in La Paz, where there is weariness of corruption in the governing party.

Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, took office in 2006.

The Bolivian president recovered millions of people living in poverty by more equitably distributing natural gas revenues, spurring the creation of an indigenous middle class.

Until Sunday's referendum, Morales had prevailed in nationwide elections with an average 61.5 percent of the vote.

The vote count on Sunday’s referendum had been unusually slow and the vice president said that the outcome would be a "cliff-hanger."

Jose Luis Exeni, a member of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, claimed a right-wing conspiracy was "trying to make disappear by sleight of hand the rural vote that favors Morales."

Organization of American States observers proved no evidence of fraud.

"Evo's traditional opposition among the affluent and middle class was joined by a wide swath of voters who have long been a part of his political support," said Jim Shultz, executive director of the left-leaning Democracy Center political advocacy group.

"Their turnaround isn't about moving rightward," but rather a rejection of corruption that reflects a belief "that 20 years is too long for one person to be president," he added.

Bolivian President Evo Morales sings his national anthem at a signing ceremony for the expansion of a road that connects the capital with the nearby city of El Alto, in La Paz, Bolivia, Monday, Feb. 22, 2016.

The timing of the referendum was challenging for Morales.

Morales was stung by an influence-peddling scandal involving a former girlfriend that cost him dearly, political scientist Marcelo Silva of the Universidad Mayor de San Andres said.

The girlfriend, who is sales manager of a Chinese company in 2013, has obtained nearly $500 million in mostly no-bid state contracts.

"The cost of corruption has been high," analyst reported.

Most harmful among scandals plaguing the Morales’ party was the skimming of millions from the government-managed Fondo Indigena, which runs agricultural and public works in the countryside.

TRTWorld and agencies