BUENOS AIRES – Former leftist head of state Evo Morales hailed on Monday the apparent victory of Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) candidate Luis Arce in the first round of Bolivia’s presidential election and confirmed his plans to return to his homeland.
Meanwhile, former centrist president Carlos Mesa, Arce’s main rival, conceded defeat even though the results of the official vote count are still pending.
Morales, who has been living in exile in Argentina but had earlier vowed to return to Bolivia if the MAS party he still leads emerged victorious, made his remarks on Twitter early Monday after exit polls showed Arce, his former economy minister, having easily cleared the threshold needed to avoid a runoff.
“Brothers and sisters, the people have imposed their will” and given the MAS a “decisive victory,” Morales, who faces terrorism and sedition charges in Bolivia stemming from deadly clashes between his supporters and the security forces following his resignation last November, said of Sunday’s election. “Our political movement will have the majority in both chambers” of Congress.
Morales gave further remarks at a press conference on Monday in Buenos Aires, saying that he will return to Bolivia “sooner or later” and that the judicial proceedings against him are “part of a dirty war.”
“It’s a matter of time. My great desire is to return to Bolivia,” the 60-year-old ex-president said in a press conference, adding that his plan is to settle down in the central Tropics of Cochabamba region and become a “farmer and small producer.”
Morales, who was president from 2006-2019, also thanked leftist leaders across Latin America for their support and said that after Sunday’s election he received a phone call from Pope Francis, though without offering any details.
Amid pressure from the political class and ordinary citizens alike, the results of an exit poll conducted for television channels Unitel and Bolivision were released early Monday and showed that Arce secured 52.4 percent of vote in the first round.
The leading vote-getter needs to garner at least 40 percent of the ballots, with a 10 percent margin over the runner-up, to avoid a Nov. 29 runoff.
The Ciesmori exit poll showed that Mesa received 31.5 percent of the vote, followed by Luis Fernando Camacho of the Creemos (We Believe) party with 14.1 percent.
A separate poll by the Tu Voto Cuenta (Your Vote Counts) initiative shows a similar result, with Arce receiving 53 percent of the vote, followed by Mesa with 30.8 percent and Camacho with 14.1 percent.
Arce said in La Paz that his victory was assured, while rightist interim President Jeanine Añez said that although the results of the official vote count are still pending, the available data shows a clear MAS victory and congratulated Arce and his running mate, former foreign minister David Choquehuanca.
Mesa, for his part, told reporters on Monday that the exit polls show a decisive first-round victory for Arce and that his Citizen Community party will head up the opposition in the 2020-2025 period.
Even as MAS is poised to retake the reins of power, the violent protests that followed the October 2019 presidential election remain fresh in the minds of Bolivians.
Morales announced after that balloting that he had won the election outright in the first round, but he later resigned after losing the support of the armed forces amid widespread unrest and an Organization of American States report that found irregularities in the computer voting system.
He and his supporters across Latin America and beyond termed his ouster a coup.
Some 7.3 million Bolivians were eligible to cast ballots in Sunday’s election, in which all 166 congressional seats also were in play.