The socialist candidate backed by former President Evo Morales preemptively declared victory in Sunday’s presidential election before the vast majority of votes had been counted, setting the stage for a potentially contentious scenario when Bolivia’s election body announces the full results on Tuesday.
Exit polls projected that Luis Arce, a former finance minister under Morales and candidate for his Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, secured more than 50 percent of the vote in Sunday’s ballot. His closest rival, former president Carlos Mesa, was projected to win just over 30 percent. Candidates must win at least 50 percent to avoid a run-off election with the second-highest recipient of votes.
In a midnight broadcast from the capital of La Paz, Arce declared victory. An hour later, Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced that it had counted less than six percent of votes, meaning Arce declared victory with less than that number counted.
“We have reclaimed democracy and above all, we have reclaimed hope,” said the 57-year-old, known by his supporters as Lucho. “We will govern for all Bolivians … we will bring unity to our country.”
Arce notably did not mention Morales in his victory speech, who earlier that night had dramatically declared he would return to Bolivia from Argentina despite outstanding criminal investigations against him on charges of terrorism and statutory rape.
As of Monday morning, just 21.7 percent of the votes had been recorded, meaning close to 80 percent of votes are yet to be counted. Opposition candidates Carlos Mesa and Luis Fernando Camacho have yet to comment on the results, with their spokespeople confirming they are waiting for complete and official data. According to the country’s electoral commission, the full results will be released on Tuesday.
Although it appears likely that Arce topped the poll, his declaration of an outright victory before the vast majority of votes have been counted is especially contentious given that he requires at least 50 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off against another the second-placed candidate. There were also reports of irregularities in relation to absentee ballots in voting stations in Argentina, which is home to hundreds of thousands of Bolivian expats.
Arce’s reported victory was also celebrated by Morales, currently living in exile in Argentina, who took to Twitter to declare a “resounding victory” for his candidate.
“Sisters and brothers: the will of the people has been imposed. There has been a resounding victory for the MAS-IPSP. Our political movement will have a majority in both houses,” he wrote. “We have returned millions of votes, now we are going to restore dignity and freedom to the people.”
Hermanas y hermanos: la voluntad del pueblo se ha impuesto.
Se ha producido una victoria contundente del MAS-IPSP. Nuestro movimiento político tendrá la mayoría en las dos cámaras. Hemos vuelto millones, ahora vamos a devolver la dignidad y la libertad al pueblo.#JallallaBolivia pic.twitter.com/gTHa6qRhTB
— Evo Morales Ayma (@evoespueblo) October 19, 2020
A far-left revolutionary who led Bolivia for 14 years, Morales resigned from office and fled to Mexico, then Argentina, last October after an audit by the Organization of American States (OAS) found “irregularities” in the results of the presidential election.
Morales claimed victory in the election, granting him a fourth term, despite the Bolivian constitution containing term limits that made his candidacy illegal. He was later replaced by the vice president of the Senate, Jeanine Áñez Chavez, whose administration later issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of crimes against humanity. Among the accusations against him include planning acts of terrorism, attempting to starve parts of the country’s population, and engaging in acts of pedophilia by fathering a child with an underage teen.
Áñez, who pulled out as a candidate, but oversaw the election process, conceded that her left-wing rival appeared to have won the election.
“We do not yet have the official count, but the data we do have shows that Mr. Arce and [his running mate] Mr. Choquehuanca won the election,” she tweeted. “I congratulate the winners and ask them to govern thinking of Bolivia and its democracy.”
Aún no tenemos cómputo oficial, pero por los datos con los que contamos, el Sr. Arce y el Sr. Choquehuanca han ganado la elección. Felicito a los ganadores y les pido gobernar pensando en Bolivia y en la democracia.
— Jeanine Añez Chavez (@JeanineAnez) October 19, 2020
Acre’s victory was celebrated by leading figures within the Latin American left, including Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro and Argentine President Alberto Fernández.
“A great victory!” tweeted Maduro. “United and aware, the Bolivian people have used votes to defeat the coup they carried out against our brother Evo.”
¡Gran Victoria! El pueblo boliviano unido y consciente derrotó con votos el golpe de Estado que le dieron a nuestro hermano Evo. Felicitaciones al presidente electo Luis Arce, al vicepresidente David Choquehuanca y a nuestro Jefe Indio del Sur @evoespueblo. ¡Jallalla Bolivia! pic.twitter.com/nZgOJs57hL
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) October 19, 2020
“The victory of [Arce] in Bolivia is not only good news for those of us who defend democracy in Latin America; It is also an act of justice in the face of the aggression suffered by the Bolivian people,” wrote Fernández.
La victoria del @BOmereceMAS en Bolivia no solo es una buena noticia para quienes defendemos la democracia en América Latina; es, además, un acto de justicia ante la agresión que sufrió el pueblo boliviano.
— Alberto Fernández (@alferdez) October 19, 2020
Should Arce ultimately prove victorious, this would represent the latest success for the Latin American left, who having dominated the continent during the turn of the 21st century lost practically all their ground in the past five years to conservative governments. Over the past two years, both Argentina and Mexico have elected socialist leaders, while the dictatorships of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, and Castro’s Cuba continue to retain their grip on authority.