Morales party claims win as Bolivia seems to shift back left

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA (AP) — Bolivia appeared on Monday to be shifting sharply away from the conservative policies of the United States (US)-backed interim government that took power last year after leftist President Evo Morales resigned, with the self-exiled leader’s party claiming victory in a weekend presidential election.

The leading rival of Morales’ handpicked successor, Luis Arce, conceded defeat as did interim President Jeanine Áñez, a bitter foe of Morales.

Officials released no formal, comprehensive quick count of results from Sunday’s vote, but two independent surveys of selected polling places gave Arce a lead of roughly 20 percentage points over his closest rival — far more than needed to avoid a runoff.

Áñez asked Arce “to govern with Bolivia and democracy in mind”.

Arce, meanwhile, appealed for calm in the bitterly divided nation saying he would seek to form a government of national unity under his Movement Towards Socialism Party.

“I think the Bolivian people want to retake the path we were on,” Arce declared, surrounded by a small group of supporters, some of them in traditional Andean dress in honour of the country’s Indigenous roots.

To win in the first round, a candidate needs more than 50 per cent of the vote, or 40 per cent with a lead of at least 10 percentage points over the second-place candidate. The independent counts, sponsored by civic groups, indicated Arce had a little over 50 per cent of the vote and a roughly 20-point advantage over centrist former President Carlos Mesa, who acknowledged defeat.

Bolivian presidential candidate for the Movement Towards Socialism Party Luis Arce celebrates during a press conference where they claim victory after general elections in La Paz, Bolivia. PHOTO: AP