The official results from Bolivia’s presidential election weren’t yet available, but interim President Jeanine Áñez said shortly after midnight Monday that former left-wing President Evo Morales’s handpicked candidate had won the vote held the previous day.
“We still do not have an official count, but from the data we have, Mr. Arce and Mr. Choquehuanca have won the election,” she said on her official
account. She was referring to the presidential candidate of Mr. Morales’s Movement Toward Socialism party, Luis Arce, and his vice presidential pick, David Choquehuanca.
“I congratulate the winners and I ask that they govern thinking of Bolivia and of democracy,” she said.
A conservative and an opponent of Mr. Morales and his movement, Ms. Áñez didn’t elaborate on her surprising announcement or offer any public comments, and neither did Bolivian electoral authorities. Shortly before she issued her message, the Organization of American States, which has an electoral observer mission in Bolivia, called on the competing political parties to “patiently await official data.”
“The next few days will be crucial for the future of Bolivia and everyone must live up to this historic moment,” an OAS press release said.
Ms. Áñez’s comments came shortly after the pollster Ciesmori put out the results of its quick count of Sunday’s election, showing Mr. Arce, a 57-year-old former economy minister under Mr. Morales, had taken 52.4% of the vote. The runner-up in Ciesmori’s quick count of a sampling of ballots in the six-candidate election was Carlos Mesa, a 67-year-old historian who had served as president for 18 months between 2003 and 2005.
Mr. Morales, who had been driven from power last November after he claimed victory in an election that observers said was marred by irregularities, celebrated from his exile in Argentina.
“Brothers and sisters, the will of the people has been imposed,” he said via Twitter. “This has been an overwhelming victory.”
At his campaign headquarters in La Paz, Mr. Arce said, “We have recuperated democracy and, more than anything, the Bolivians have recovered hope.”
Luis Arce is former President Morales’s longtime economics czar in the Movement Toward Socialism Party.
Meanwhile, Ricardo Paz, spokesman for Mr. Mesa’s Citizen Community party, said that there would be no comment. “We are going to wait for official results,” he told reporters.
If the victory Ms. Áñez attributed to Mr. Arce is confirmed by electoral authorities, it would amount to a surprising, outright win that the polls hadn’t predicted for Mr. Morales’s MAS, as the Movement Toward Socialism party is best known.
An Ipsos poll ahead of the vote showed Mr. Arce leading with 34% versus 28% for Mr. Mesa. Another poll by the Latin America Strategic Center for Geopolitics had Mr. Arce winning the presidency in the first round, 44.4% to 34% for Mr. Mesa. To avoid a second round of voting in Bolivia, a first-place finisher needs to collect at least 40% of the vote and hold a 10-point margin over the runner-up.
Sunday’s vote was being watched closely across Latin America, where it was seen as one of Bolivia’s most important since its return to democracy in 1982. The tumult that led to Mr. Morales’s resignation last November sharply divided Bolivia, a landlocked country of 11 million, and led to Ms. Áñez’s caretaker government, which has been criticized as corrupt and botching its response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Ms. Áñez’s spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Carlos Mesa, a former president, voting in La Paz on Sunday.
jorge bernal/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
This election was seen as a replay of last October’s vote, which was marked by turmoil after Bolivians rose up against Mr. Morales, who had already ruled 14 years and was trying to win a fourth term.
By then, Mr. Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, had grown increasingly authoritarian, with the ruling MAS dominating all branches of government and the electoral tribunal. Although voters had rejected a 2016 referendum to change the constitution and allow him to run for a fourth consecutive term, a constitutional court packed with Mr. Morales’s allies later allowed him to participate.
After the vote, observers from the Organization of American States said that an audit turned up “clear manipulation” of the voting system. That led to violent protests in which more than 30 people died. After Mr. Morales lost the support of police and the armed forces, he opted to flee into exile. He has since called his departure a coup and vowed that the MAS would return to power.
On Sunday, Bolivia was peaceful as troops and police patrolled the streets. From the country’s lowland jungles to its cold highlands, voters lined up to cast their ballots, many of them wearing masks as protection against the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 8,500 people and given Bolivia one of the world’s highest per capita death rates from Covid-19.
Mr. Morales’s supporters remained loyal to their man and his movement, saying that the MAS would guide Bolivia out of the economic crisis it has been facing since being hit by the pandemic. The International Monetary Fund estimated Bolivia’s economy would contract by 8% this year.
“We believe that the Movement Toward Socialism offers another opportunity for this country,” said Ronald Cuellar, 32, a vendor who voted for Mr. Arce.
Katerin Rocha, 27, a petroleum engineer, also voted for the MAS, saying she believed “in the word of Luis Arce.”
“What I expect from this new government is that they comply with their promises and that they provide opportunities to the young, more than anything else,” she said.
Write to Juan Forero at Juan.Forero@wsj.com
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