Morales grudgingly accepts referendum defeat in Bolivia

LA PAZ, Bolivia -- President Evo Morales grudgingly accepted on Wednesday his first direct electoral defeat in a decade in power, the narrow rejection of a constitutional amendment that would have let him run again in 2019.

See Full Article

"We lost a democratic battle but not the war," he told a news conference. "Evo's work is not done." He blamed the loss on a "dirty war" by the opposition and an "external conspiracy."

Asked if the process of choosing a successor would begin in the governing party, Morales reminded the questioner that he still has four years left in office.

"It's not the moment to speak of a successor. There is a lot of time for that."

Previously, Morales had averaged 61.5 per cent of the vote in electoral wins, including a 2009 constitutional rewrite. But corruption scandals, a weakening economy and the growing unpopularity of his movement stung this time.

After the outcome became clear Tuesday night, 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 official corruption.

Sunday's ballot question lost by 51 per cent to 49 per cent. The outcome also blocks Vice-President Alvaro Garcia from running again.

A native Aymara, Morales is Bolivia's first indigenous president and changed the ethnic complexion of the landlocked nation's politics in three terms in office.

He helped lift millions from of poverty by more equitably distributing natural gas revenues, spurring the creation of an indigenous middle class. He built airports, highways and the pride of La Paz, an Austrian-built aerial tramway system. He also put a Chinese-built satellite into space

But Bolivians have been losing patience with his now-entrenched Movement Toward Socialism. And many natives initially enamoured of Morales for granting them autonomy on paper lost faith when he pushed natural gas and oil projects on their lands.

The referendum also closely followed a revelation that Morales, previously unscathed by scandal, may have been personally involved in influence-peddling.

While the setback was yet another blow to South America's populist left -- which last year lost Argentina's presidency and saw the opposition win control of Venezuela's parliament -- it did not signify a right turn in Bolivia.

"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, director of the left-leaning Democracy Center advocacy group.

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

Jose Luis Choque, a 24-year-old accounting student, said Morales has been duly warned.

"I think that if he wants to finish his term in peace he should understand that he needs to return to who he was when he became president, when he had ideals and was dear to the people for them and made us feel proud," he said.

Early in his presidency, Morales crushed the right-wing opposition by championing Bolivia's long-downtrodden native majority. He expelled the DEA and a U.S. ambassador, thriving on anti-Yankee rhetoric. The coca-growers union leader also upset Washington drug warriors with a less violent coca-eradication program in the world's No. 3 producer of cocaine.

But formidable opposition eventually emerged from inside his movement and it stung in March 2015 municipal and regional elections, when opposition mayors won in eight of Bolivia's 10 biggest cities.

Political scientist Marcelo Silva of the Universidad Mayor de San Andres said infighting in the governing party over a successor could now weaken it even further.

An unprecedented economic boom in which gross domestic product per capita rose by nearly a third during Morales' rule has now waned. Bolivia's revenues from natural gas and minerals, making up three-fourths of its exports, were down 32 per cent last year.

The vote's timing could not have been worse for Morales.

An influence-peddling scandal that broke this month cost him dearly.

A former girlfriend nearly half Morales' 56 years was named sales manager of a Chinese company in 2013 that has obtained nearly $500 million in mostly no-bid state contracts. Photos of her neoclassical mansion in a wealthy southern La Paz enclave spread online.

Morales denied any impropriety and claimed he last saw the woman in 2007. But a picture of the two together last year emerged, casting doubts.

The most harmful scandal plaguing the ruling elite was the skimming of millions from the government-managed Fondo Indigena, which runs agricultural and public works in the countryside.

Judicial corruption has also been rampant, and freedom of expression suffered under Morales, with critical media and environmentalists complaining of harassment by an overbearing state.

As Morales left the presidential palace on Wednesday, a small group of people booed him, shouting "Bolivia said 'No!"

Minutes later, another group showed up to confront it, shouting, "Bolivia said Yes!"

Police separated the two groups.

Associated Press writer Carlos Valdez reported this story in La Paz and AP writer Frank Bajak reported from Lima, Peru. AP writer Paola Flores in La Paz contributed.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Banff's Sunshine Village clearing out guests as crews tackle nearby wildfire

    Canada News CTV News
    CALGARY - A popular Rocky Mountain resort in Banff National Park is being cleared of guests so that crews can fight a wildfire raging in the nearby backcountry. Sunshine Village, a ski hill on the Alberta-B.C. Source
  • Egyptian who claimed refugee status loses legal fight over terrorist branding

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- An Egyptian man branded as a threat to Canada's national security has failed in what could prove to be his final attempt at lifting the terrorist designation that has hung over him for the past 15 years. Source
  • O.J. Simpson granted parole for Vegas armed robbery [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    LOVELOCK, Nev. — O.J. Simpson once thrilled crowds as he ran for touchdowns and hurdled airport seats in car rental ads to achieve Hollywood celebrity before he was acquitted of murder in the 1995 “trial of the century” in Los Angeles. Source
  • National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg gets $5M to expand Ebola containment lab

    Canada News CBC News
    The federal government is putting millions more into Canada's National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg to help detect high-risk infectious diseases such as Ebola and various types of avian influenza faster. The $5 million will be used to convert current Level 3 containment laboratory space to the "highest level of biosafety," the federal government said in a news release on Thursday. Source
  • Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington dead at 41

    World News CBC News
    Chester Bennington, lead singer of the California rock band Linkin Park, has died at the age of 41, according to the Los Angeles County coroner. Coroner spokesperson Brian Elias said the death is being investigated as an apparent suicide but no additional details were available. Source
  • Trudeau defends his choice for governor general amid revelations about her past

    Canada News CBC News
    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is defending his pick for governor general after it was revealed she struck and killed a pedestrian while driving and was once the subject of a criminal probe for assault. Trudeau said Thursday his team did a thorough vet of Julie Payette, a former astronaut who will assume the largely ceremonial post in the fall, and there is nothing in her past that disqualifies her for the job. Source
  • Hunters kill Cecil the lion's son in Zimbabwe

    World News CTV News
    JOHANNESBURG - Conservationists in Zimbabwe say the son of a lion named Cecil, whose 2015 killing prompted an international outcry, has also been fatally shot during a hunt. A group named Friends of Hwange Trust said Thursday on Facebook that 6-year-old Xanda, Cecil's son, was shot on a "legal trophy hunt" several days ago. Source
  • Salvador Dali to be exhumed in paternity lawsuit

    World News Toronto Sun
    FIGUERES, Spain — Salvador Dali’s eccentric artistic and personal biography is taking yet another bizarre turn with the exhumation of his embalmed remains in order to find genetic samples that could settle whether one of the founding figures of surrealism fathered a girl. Source
  • Evacuations after wildfire breaks out on outskirts of Penticton, B.C.

    Canada News CTV News
    PENTICTON, B.C. -- Multiple homes have been evacuated after a wildfire broke out on the outskirts of Penticton, B.C., this morning. Peter Weeber, chief administrative officer for the city, says the fire started around 9 a.m. Source
  • Two missing Burundi teens reportedly seen crossing into Canada

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    WASHINGTON — U.S. authorities say two of six Burundi teens who were reported missing after an international robotics competition in Washington have been seen crossing the border into Canada. Metropolitan Police spokeswoman Aquita Brown says the whereabouts of their team members is unknown, and that the search for all the teens remains ongoing, but she stresses that police have no indication of foul play in their disappearance. Source