Latin America

Bolivians split over whether to allow Evo Morales to run again

Sunday's referendum to decide if president can once more present himself in 2020

Morales supporters take part in the closing of the referendum campaign.
Morales supporters take part in the closing of the referendum campaign.Martin Alipaz / EFE

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Bolivians will go to the polls on Sunday in a referendum organized by President Evo Morales to determine whether he can run for another term in 2020, potentially allowing him to serve 19 consecutive years as Bolivia’s leader.

If successful, Morales could still be in office by 2025, when Bolivia celebrates the bicentennial of its independence from Spain.

Polls show that a large number of Bolivians are still undecided as to how they will vote, which could be decisive in the outcome.

Morales, an Aymara Indian and former coca leaf grower, was first elected in 2006 with 54% of the vote. Two years later he was able to hang on to office after winning a referendum held to revoke his term.

In 2009, after a change was made in the Constitution, he was re-elected with 64% of the vote. Two years ago, he won a third term with 61% support.

The polls show that Morales has an enormous approval rating among both sides

But judicial authorities consider his 2014 race as his first re-election, meaning a second run – which is still not allowed under the Constitution – will not take place until 2020.

For the first time, most polls published up until last Sunday – the legal cutoff date for surveys – show an even split between the “yes” and “no” vote, while the number of undecided voters is fluctuating between 10% and 15% of the more than six million Bolivians who are eligible to cast their ballots on Sunday.

Nevertheless, the polls show that Morales has an enormous approval rating among both camps.

With more than 10 years in office, Morales has carried out deep social changes in the country. The middle classes have grown and many Bolivians have been able to escape poverty.

Within the past two years, dozens of new businesses have opened as the country undergoes a construction boom. The government’s biggest infrastructure project – the new cable car system in La Paz – never stops running.

But corruption in government institutions has also increased alongside the emergence of the new elite. At the same time, Bolivia’s traditional landowners, who wield a lot of power in the country, are against Morales remaining in office.

There are also many Bolivians who have supported him in the past, but are unhappy about the way Morales has pushed for the referendum.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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