La Paz, Feb 23: Partial results have indicated Bolivian President Evo Morales faced defeat in a referendum on seeking a fourth term in power, but he sat tight pending results from his rural strongholds.
Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous head of state, promised to respect the official results of Sunday's vote on whether he can run for re-election to extend his time in office to 19 years. But he insisted on waiting for full results to trickle in from rural areas where he has strong support, and from abroad.
"We are going to respect the results, whether it be a No or a Yes. We always have respected them. That is democracy," he told a news conference yesterday. "We are going to wait patiently for the final whistle from the electoral tribunal. We are optimistic." Morales, 56, wants to run for another five-year term when his current one ends in 2020, to continue a socialist program credited with improving the fortunes of poor indigenous groups. Partial official results with 72.5 per cent of votes counted showed about 56.5 percent for "No" and 43.2 percent for "Yes."
That was largely in line with exit polls published by private media late Sunday, which indicated Morales narrowly lost the vote. An Ipsos poll for ATB television said the "No" vote had 52.3 percent to 47.7 per cent for "Yes."
A survey by Mori for Unitel television gave the "No" vote 51 per cent to 49 per cent for "Yes." The Supreme Electoral Tribunal said it expected to have an official result with 90 per cent of votes counted within two days. With no official outcome to the referendum, Morales said those distributing non-definitive information on the vote were essentially liars.
"People who use social media to spread lies are making the younger generations lose their values," the president told reporters. Opposition figures celebrated their projected victory. Samuel Doria Medina -- defeated twice by Morales in presidential elections -- said: "We have recovered democracy and the right to choose."
The early results "are showing strong support (for Morales) in the provinces, but in the main cities and even in the medium-sized ones, there is a strong 'No' vote," said analyst Jorge Komadina.
However, "the forces of the opposition are scattered" and lack a single leader, he said. "They are a disparate grouping of leaderships and political intentions."
Morales said he was prepared to give up on a fourth term if voters rejected the bid. "With my record, I can leave happily and go home content. I would love to be a sports trainer," he was quoted as saying in an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais.