Bolivia's Morales wins new presidential term

Bolivia's leftist President Evo Morales won a landslide reelection victory in voting that also handed him unfettered control of Congress, according to exit polls.

The results mean that Morales, a fiercely anti-US leader in the mold of his close ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, will have a free hand to deepen leftist reforms for the duration of his new five-year term.

Two survey firms, Ipsos and Mori, said Morales garnered 62-63 percent of the vote, well ahead of his closest rival, former governor Manfred Reyes Villa, who picked up only 23-25 percent.

The ruling Movement Towards Socialism party also succeeded in winning two-thirds of the seats in Congress, including taking control of the senate from the conservative opposition, according to the exit polls.

If confirmed, Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president who came to power in 2006, would have the legislative numbers to pass laws without negotiating with the oposition.

Bolivian President Evo Morales puts on a garland in the locality Villa 14 de Septiembre. Morales won a landslide reelection victory in voting that also handed him unfettered control of Congress, according to exit polls.

Official results from the election were expected late Tuesday.

Much of Morales's support came from Bolivia's indigenous majority, which makes up 60 percent of the population and which is now embracing greater powers and pride after long being suppressed by the 40 percent minority of European descent.

Morales followed in Chavez's footsteps in organizing a referendum changing the constitution early this year that scrapped a previous one-term limit for presidents and allowed him to stand once more for reelection.

Like Chavez, he also hinted on Sunday he intended to stay on beyond the new five-year mandate he was likely given, to see through a "revolution" that he claimed would require decades of stewardship.

"If we talk of the new constitution... this is the first election of Evo Morales," he argued.

If Morales does stand and win in the next presidential election in 2014, he could stay in power until 2020.

Such a prospect would unsettle the United States, which is wary of the close ties between Chavez and Morales, and their accommodation of US enemy Iran.

Non-indigenous Bolivians who mostly inhabit the more prosperous lowlands in the eastern half of Bolivia, where economically vital natural gas deposits are located, would also be unhappy.

They have proved unable to counter Morales's reforms which have already included limiting the size of ranches and other land holdings, and nationalizing the energy and telecommunications sectors.

They fear that a Congress dominated by Morales's party will now pass a law approved in the referendum that would give indigenous communities the right to self-rule. That has already been interpreted as permission to seize land from non-indigenous owners.

Tensions between the president's supporters and opponents spilled over into deadly violence late last year, though they have subsided somewhat since the January 2009 referendum that knocked Reyes Villa and other "rebel" governors from power.

Reyes Villa additionally faces a threat of jail on corruption charges voiced by Morales in the lead-up to the elections.

The government said the former military officer -- who was ousted in a recall question on the referendum along with other "rebel" governors -- had bought a plane ticket to flee the country on Monday.

source AFP

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