- Title: Bolivia's Evo: socialist icon or would-be dictator?
- Date: 18th October 2019
- Summary: CHAPARE, BOLIVIA (FILE - 2006) (ORIGINALLY 4:3) (REUTERS) MORALES ON VEHICLE WITH FORMER VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT, HUGO CHAVEZ
- Embargoed: 1st November 2019 14:01
- Keywords: Bolivia election presidential Bolivian President Evo Morales Ayma profile term referendum campaign
- Location: ORINOCA, LOS YUNGAS, CHAPARE, LA PAZ, COCHABAMBA, TARIJA, EL ALTO, TIHUANACU, YUCUMO & GUAYARAMERIN, BOLIVIA
- City: ORINOCA, LOS YUNGAS, CHAPARE, LA PAZ, COCHABAMBA, TARIJA, EL ALTO, TIHUANACU, YUCUMO & GUAYARAMERIN, BOLIVIA
- Country: Bolivia
- Topics: Government/Politics,Elections/Voting,Editors' Choice
- Reuters ID: LVA00BB1MH35Z
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Bolivia will go to the polls on Sunday (October 20) in an era-defining vote either to cement Evo Morales in power for a controversial fourth term or to dislodge the iconic left-wing leader, who has ruled the land-locked South American country for nearly 14 years.
Morales, who swept into power in 2006 pledging to bolster Bolivia's marginalized indigenous groups, is leading in opinion polls ahead of the Oct. 20 vote. But his main rival Carlos Mesa has been closing the gap.
The election - expected to be the toughest challenge to Morales' rule yet - has sparked debate about President "Evo" as he is often known. Solid economic growth has made him a poster boy for socialism, but his defiance of term limits has sparked angry street protests, with some calling him a "dictator".
Pollsters expect Morales to win the first round, but not an outright victory - a scenario which would lead to a second round run-off in December.
Morales, who won the previous two elections with more than 60% of the vote, faces a bigger battle this time, with popular anger over term-limits also fed in recent weeks by what critics called a slow government response to devastating forest fires.
The 59-year-old indigenous president needs to receive at least 40% of the vote and have a 10-point lead over the second-place contender to avoid a second round, which some polls suggest he could even lose.
Some among the country's indigenous population, which numbers more than 4 million people, feel Morales has lost touch with the people, even among his own tribe the Aymara.
The election will also see the country's 166-seat two-house Congress be renewed for the period 2020-2025. Other presidential candidates include Oscar Ortiz's anti-Evo "Bolivia Says No" party and Chi Hyun Chung of the Christian Democratic party.
Morales has been in continuous power for longer than any other standing leader in Latin America, one of a wave of left-wing leaders who dominated the continent's politics at the start of the century.
The former llama herder and coca leaf farmer - now more often seen in colorfully-embroidered alpaca suits - took office as the first indigenous leader of the farming and gas-driven economy, one of the region's smallest.
The head of the country's Movement for Socialism party, he was reelected in 2009 and 2014. If he wins this year he would extend his time in office to 19 years.
The fact he's running at all is a thorny question. His own 2009 constitution set a limit of two five-year terms, and in 2016 Bolivians voted in a referendum against him running again this year. Morales convinced the country's Constitutional Court to let him stand anyway, saying term limits violated his "human rights".
Morales' critics say he is straining the country's democratic system to stay in power, alleging the president and his allies use strong-arm tactics against those who oppose them.
Morales and his supporters point to steady economic growth and falling poverty levels under his leadership, and say his nationalization of key industries protects Bolivia's interests.
(Production: Monica Machicao, Santiago Limachi, Sergio Limachi)
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