Bolivia's prez claims victory in re-election

Bolivia's prez claims victory  in re-election

 
Official results were not expected until Monday but quick counts showed Morales took at least 63 per cent of the vote, more than 35 percentage points ahead of his closest challenger, rightist former governor Manfred Reyes Villa.

Morales, an Aymara Indian, is Bolivia’s first indigenous president and is hugely popular among the Indian majority that also supported a constitutional reform earlier this year to allow him to run for a second consecutive term in South America’s poorest country.

“Brothers and sisters, we now have an enormous responsibility ... Your vote won’t be in vain,” Morales said on Sunday night from the balcony of the presidential palace, addressing thousands of supporters who waved rainbow-coloured indigenous flags and shouted “Evo Again! Evo Again!”

Exit polls projected Morales would also win control of the lower house of Congress and a two-thirds majority in the Senate, where the opposition had tried to block some of his reforms in his first term.

Critics say Morales, 50, has scared away crucial foreign investment with nationalisation of key sectors of the economy and is ruling only for Indian ethnic groups instead of all Bolivians. With his Movement Toward Socialism party dominant in Congress, Morales’s reforms will have few brakes during his five-year second term, though analysts say he cannot attract investment without moderating his rhetoric.

Morales is an ally of Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez and ramped up social spending in his first term, tapping increased government revenue after he nationalised the energy industry in 2006 and raised taxes on natural gas production. Bolivia is South America’s top exporter of the fuel.

But opponents say he has failed to increase output, stamp out corruption in the state-run energy company and develop the natural gas industry, signs of future challenges.

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