Bolivian President Evo Morales has declared victory over his rival in a highly contentious election, as angry crowds insisting the vote was rigged continue to fill the streets.
With over 99 percent of the ballots counted, the long-serving socialist leader says he bagged an outright win in last Sunday’s contest over opposition challenger Carlos Mesa, but irregularities in the vote tally have sparked allegations of fraud, prompting heated protests in cities across the country.
Short of a clear majority, a Bolivian presidential candidate must earn 40 percent of the total vote and a 10 point lead over the runner-up to avoid a second round runoff. After Sunday’s poll, however, the government stopped updating the official vote tally for nearly 24 hours, just as Morales began to lose his lead, triggering suspicions of manipulation. Doubt quickly turned to rage when the count resumed, showing Morales had won the 10 percent margin by just a fraction of a point.
Morales maintains there is nothing untoward about his victory, inviting international observers on Tuesday to “inspect the entire vote calculation process, vote by vote, with all the guarantees,” in a tweet from his verified account.
Despite the controversy surrounding the outcome of the vote, the Mexican government commended Morales for his avowed win.
“The government of Mexico congratulates… [Morales] for his victory and we wish him the greatest success in his next term,” Mexico’s deputy foreign minister for Latin America and the Caribbean, Maximiliano Reyes Zuniga, said on Twitter Thursday.
Thousands of demonstrators were still gathered outside a vote counting station in La Paz on Thursday, refusing to accept the election results as Mesa encouraged his supporters to join the protests.
“What is happening in Bolivia is a great fraud to rob us of our right to a second round,” Mesa told CNN Spanish.
Earlier this week, opposition activists in several cities smashed storefronts, looted polling stations, and burned election materials in the streets, leading to clashes with riot police, who dispersed the crowds with tear gas. The president has dubbed the protesters “coup” plotters.
Morales, who was first elected president in 2006, is seeking his fourth term in office