LA PAZ – President Evo Morales won re-election with more than 60 percent of the vote in the general balloting in Bolivia on Sunday, according to exit polls released by three television networks.
The main opposition candidate, former Cochabamba Gov. Manfred Reyes Villa, of the PPB-CN party, who had been trailing Morales by some 30 points in pre-election surveys, received between 23 and 24 percent of the vote, according to the exit polls.
The surveys put Morales and his Movement Toward Socialism, or MAS, party at between 61 and 63.2 percent of the vote.
Morales projected confidence in the face of the exit poll results, telling print reporters at the presidential residence – where he was meeting with his ministers and top supporters to evaluate the survey results – that his experience had been that exit polls often underestimate the eventual official vote tally by as much as 20 percent.
The exit polls also showed MAS winning the legislative elections in six of the country’s nine provinces, namely La Paz, Oruro, Potosi, Cochabamba, Chuquisaca, and Tarija.
The unofficial results, if confirmed, would give MAS the majority in the two houses of the future Plurinational Legislative Assembly.
In the Senate races, the surveys found that Morales’ party will garner, or be very close to getting, two-thirds of the available senatorial posts, winning 24 or 25 seats, compared with 10 or 11 for the PPB-CN.
The upper chamber of the legislature has been controlled by the opposition for the last four years, but if MAS rolls to victory there, Morales would achieve his objective of controlling the congress and being able to easily pass the reforms needed to implement a new constitution to “refound” Bolivia.
The exit polls showed that La Paz businessman Samuel Doria Medina, who had been running a distant third in the pre-election surveys, received between 7.7 and 10 percent of the vote.
Television networks ATB, Red Uno and Unitel released the exit polling results about 6 p.m. (2200 GMT), as established by Bolivian election statutes.
Election authorities have 48 hours to provide an official tally of 80 percent of the ballots.
Bolivians voted Sunday for a president, vice president, national legislators and referendums in several regions.
More than 5 million people were eligible to vote in the general elections, in which eight candidates vied for the presidency.
Morales, this largely Indian nation’s first indigenous president, was seeking re-election, with the polls showing him the clear favorite in the contest.
The polls opened at 8:00 a.m. and began closing at 4:00 p.m.
Morales said Sunday that voters had a clear choice between “change” and a return to neoliberal economic policies that had produced no benefits for the country.
“The people have the right today to deliberately decide whether they want to expand democracy or return to neoliberalism, if they are for change or with neoliberalism, that is what the Bolivian people will decide with their votes,” Morales said.
“Neoliberal” is the term used by Latin American leftists to describe what they see as unbridled capitalism, exemplified in their view by the economic policies promoted by the United States and multilateral financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.
Morales was elected in December 2006 with nearly 54 percent of the vote.
His term was originally set to end in 2012, but the new constitution Bolivia enacted this year required the holding of fresh elections for national offices.
Some 50,000 security forces members were deployed across Bolivia to provide security and enforce election laws.