Bolivians hope to restore political stability in Sunday’s presidential election

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© Reuters. Women walk past a wall with graffiti depicting former Bolivian President Evo Morales, ahead of the general elections in La Paz

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By Marcelo Rochabrun

LA PAZ (Reuters) – Bolivians go to the polls on Sunday in an election many hope can restore stability to an Andean country that was plunged into turmoil after a tense and ultimately canceled vote last year, leaving the country in the hands of an interim president.

The pioneers are Luis Arce, who advocates a return to the socialist and pro-indigenous policies of former president Evo Morales, and Carlos Mesa, a centrist who served as president in the early 2000s. Polls show Arce in the lead, but not enough to avoid a runoff that would take place at the end of November.

There are also several other centrist and conservative candidates on the ballot.

“The vote is expected to be the largest since Bolivia returned to democracy in 1982,” said Carlos Valverde, a political analyst.

The election will be a test of left-wing influence in Latin America, as Morales has been a key figure in a wave of left-wing presidents in the region over the past decade.

Bolivia erupted in violence late last year when Morales ran for a fourth term in a contested election that has since been called off. The violence has claimed at least 30 lives, caused food shortages and forced Morales to resign after nearly 14 years in power.

On Saturday, La Paz, a city sharply divided by class and race, appeared calm with little partisan activity. But townspeople have acknowledged that they fear the outcome of Sunday’s vote will spark more violence, especially if Arce’s vote count falls short.

Arce told local media this week that the only way his rival could win was “by fraud”.

Freddy Mamami, a member of the Movement to Socialism Arce party running for Congress, told Reuters: “If the election verdict is in line with the objective reality we see, nothing will happen.”

The socialist stronghold of El Alto, a center of last year’s violence, is seen as particularly unstable. The city was built by indigenous Bolivians on top of a mountain overlooking La Paz and has grown to eclipse the capital in population.

The election was originally scheduled to take place in May, but has been repeatedly postponed due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

Polling stations are expected to open at 8 a.m. local time (noon GMT), and voting will take place entirely in person.

On Saturday evening, the Bolivian electoral commission announced that it would not publish the preliminary results expected on Sunday evening. It is not known when the first official results will be available.

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