Bolivia reveals final vote results, but no winner declared
LA PAZ – Bolivia's official vote tally was revealed Friday pointing to an outright win for incumbent Evo Morales in a disputed presidential election that has triggered protests and growing international pressure on the Andean nation to hold a runoff ballot.
The Supreme Electoral Tribunal, however, did not declare a winner though Morales' lead was just over the 10 percentage point threshold required for a victory. The final count of 100% of ballots gave Morales 47.08% of the votes in Sunday's election against 36.51% for runner-up Carlos Mesa, a former president.
Morales already proclaimed himself the winner of the election, further angering opponents who have questioned the fairness of the vote count, which included an unexplained 24-hour halt in reporting of vote results. More protests erupted Friday and the United Nations backed the holding of an audit of the vote amid fraud allegations.
Morales and Mesa exchanged bitter words Friday. Mesa accused the president of staging "a monumental fraud" in his effort to win a fourth straight term. Morales, who is Bolivia's first indigenous president, accused Mesa of trying to oust him in a coup d'etat with international support.
After the final results became known, opponents of Morales staged a big protest near the headquarters of the electoral agency, singing the national anthem and chanting "Fraud! Fraud!"
In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world body supports an audit of Bolivia's election results to be done by the Organization of American States. He appealed to the government and the opposition both "to keep the maximum restraint."
The U.N. chief told reporters after meeting with Bolivian Foreign Minister Diego Pary Rodríguez on Friday that the government and the OAS "have confirmed to us that there will be an audit."
An opposition alliance called for protests to "defend the vote."
On Friday, street blockades went up in middle-class neighborhoods of La Paz, Bolivia's capital, where protesters have staged nightly demonstrations in front of the electoral tribunal, with police firing tear gas. Protests were also reported in Cochabamba.
In Santa Cruz, an opposition stronghold in the country's west, the city was semi-paralyzed by a strike to demand "respect for the vote." Public transportation was scarce and there were sporadic clashes between groups of opposition protesters and Morales supporters.
The U.S., Brazil, Argentina and Colombia have called for Bolivia to hold a runoff between Morales and Mesa, who finished ahead of the seven other candidates. A communique issued by Colombia's foreign ministry on behalf of the four governments said they "will only recognize results that reflect the will of the Bolivian people."
The European Union took a similar stand, saying it backed a call by the OAS for a second-round election that could help Bolivia to calm the unrest that broke out after the election.
"The European Union shares the OAS' assessment that the best option would be to make a runoff to restore trust and ensure full respect for the democratic elections of the Bolivian people," the EU said in a statement.
The governments of Venezuela, Cuba and Mexico have congratulated Morales on his win.
Suspicions of electoral fraud rose when officials abruptly stopped releasing results from the quick count of votes hours after the polls closed Sunday. Morales was leading at the time, but also falling several percentage points short of the 10-point edge he needed to avoid a runoff.
Twenty-four hours later, the electoral body suddenly released an updated figure, with 95% of votes counted, showing Morales just 0.7 percentage point short of the 10-point advantage.
An OAS observer mission released a statement expressing "concern and surprise over the drastic change and difficult to justify tendency in the preliminary results."
In announcing the final results Friday, the electoral agency said 0.01% votes previously voided in the Amazonian Beni region had been counted because officials were able to validate questioned ballots. On Thursday, the authority had said voting would have to be held again in some spots Nov. 3, but did not involve enough votes to change the outcome.
Morales, 59, a native Aymara from Bolivia's highlands, was first elected in 2006 and easily won the two following elections amid as he governed during more than a decade of a commodities-fed economic boom. He paved roads, sent Bolivia's first satellite to space and curbed inflation.
Still, he has faced growing dissatisfaction, especially over his refusal to accept the results of a 2016 referendum to keep limits on presidential terms. Bolivia's top court, considered friendly to the president, ruled that limits violated Morales' political rights as a citizen.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.
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