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Why Bolivia reelected Evo Morales

His presidential victory Sunday chalks up another important win for Bolivia's Evo Morales and the region's hard-left, Chávez-led bloc, which also includes Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Cuba.

By Sara ShahriariContributor to The Christian Science Monitor, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 7, 2009

Supporters of Bolivia's President Evo Morales celebrate his re-election victory in La Paz on Sunday.

David Mercado/Reuters


La Paz, Bolivia; and Cochrane, Chile

Bolivian President Evo Morales easily won his second five-year term Sunday night, solidifying the revolution he promises to bring to the country's long-oppressed indigenous majority.

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While recent elections in countries such as Uruguay and Honduras have seen Latin America's pendulum swing back to centrist candidates, Mr. Morales – Bolivia's first indigenous president – is one of the region's most strident leftists, a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, and a vocal foe of the US. Morales's win chalks up another important victory for the region's hard-left, Chávez-led bloc, which also includes Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Cuba.

Morales, a former coca grower, has many detractors, particularly in the energy-rich lowlands who say his programs to assert greater state control over the economy could destroy national productivity. But his wide victory margin was no surprise: he has long appealed to Bolivians who felt shut out by the old political elites in a country where 60 percent of the population identifies as indigenous and the same percentage falls below the poverty line.

"He's an important representative for sectors that see themselves in him. He's lived like them," says Bolivian author and journalist Fernando Molino, who says the president's success lies in his ability to combine renewed Bolivian nationalism with popular-hero status. "He started from very low and now he is where he is."

Hailing from the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), Morales won more than 62 percent of the vote in elections Sunday, with nearly all of the ballots counted. Bolivians also voted in a new Congress.

'What do we want? Socialism!'

Sunday night supporters flooded into Plaza Murillo in downtown La Paz chanting "What do we want? Socialism!" amid air horns and drums.

Morales avoided a runoff by capturing over 50 percent of the vote, as he did with his first win in 2005, when he won with 53.7 percent. The election comes after Bolivians ratified a new Constitution in January allowing his second-term bid. The document, which recognizes a "plurinational" state, was considered a boon to the nation's indigenous.

His closest contenders were fierce foe and former governor Manfred Reyes Villa of Plan Progreso para Bolivia and Samuel Doria Medina with Unidad Nacional. Neither came even close to Morales. In the eastern province of Santa Cruz, which resisted Morales' recent constitutional reforms and has led opposition calls for greater independence from the central government, Mr. Reyes Villa narrowly defeated Morales, according to preliminary results.