In Election, Bolivia Confronts the Legacy of Its Ousted Socialist Chief

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LA PAZ, Bolivia — Adalid Zelada absolutely supported Evo Morales when Bolivia selected him because the nation’s first Indigenous president in 2005.

The way in which many noticed it, massive numbers of Bolivians had been painfully poor, society was deeply unequal and energy was overwhelmingly concentrated among the many white elite. Mr. Morales, a socialist and former llama herder, spoke of equality, ending discrimination and recovering the nation’s assets from overseas palms.

“They had been superb concepts,” mentioned Mr. Zelada, 47. “However over time, all of it turned an authoritarian technique to co-opt energy. And people good concepts turned simply phrases.”

As Bolivians head to the polls on Sunday to decide on a brand new president, the election is extensively considered as a referendum on the 14-year political venture of Mr. Morales, a towering determine in Bolivian politics who lifted a whole bunch of hundreds out of poverty however whose insurance policies and rhetoric usually divided the nation.

In recent times, even supporters started to desert him amid allegations of misuse of funds, abuse of energy and, extra just lately, a sexual relationship with a minor.

He fled Bolivia last year after his try to win a fourth time period resulted in a contested election and lethal protests. Mr. Morales known as it a coup. Others accused his authorities of attempting to rig the vote.

Sunday is a redo of final yr’s election, and comes at a time of deep polarization, at a stage notable even for a rustic accustomed to division and unrest. Within the weeks main up the election, the United Nations has documented at the least 41 acts of political violence.

Within the streets of La Paz, the executive capital, there may be little settlement about whether or not there was electoral fraud final yr. And Mr. Morales’s get together, the Movimiento al Socialismo, or MAS, is casting doubt on the voting system, warning supporters of just about sure “electoral fraud” and a course of stacked towards them.

A current poll by the nongovernmental group Fundación Jubileo discovered that simply 40 p.c of Bolivians belief the nation’s electoral physique, regardless of main efforts to overtake it since final yr.

It might take days for outcomes to come back in.

And when the depend is introduced, massive swaths of the nation are prone to be indignant, political observers say, and violence is an actual chance.

The vote is essentially a selection between Mr. Morales’ handpicked successor, his former economics minister, Luis Arce, and Carlos Mesa, a centrist former president.

Mr. Arce’s enchantment to voters is that he can proceed the socialist motion his predecessor began — whereas being very totally different from Mr. Morales.

Behind his marketing campaign automotive simply earlier than the election, he known as Mr. Morales’s resolution to run for a fourth time period “an error,” insisted that he would run for less than a single time period and mentioned he thought-about himself a transitional candidate.

“I’ve no real interest in energy,” he mentioned. “I wish to transfer the nation ahead, go away it within the palms of younger folks, and I’ll go.”

Mr. Morales, he added, would haven’t any half in his authorities. “We see him as a historic determine.”

Mr. Mesa is working because the anti-Morales candidate, promising a return to peace after years of political and social division.

Mr. Morales’s wrongdoings, he added, had been papered over by journalists and left-wing politicians “who’ve a fascination with the truth that he was the primary Indigenous president.”

“We’re the one political pressure on this nation with the flexibility to start reconciliation, heal the injuries and assemble an area of unity,” he mentioned.

A 3rd candidate, Luis Fernando Camacho, threatens to separate the conservative vote, pushing Mr. Arce and Mr. Mesa to a possible runoff.

Within the streets of La Paz final week, a lot of the dialog was not about Mr. Arce, Mr. Mesa or Mr. Camacho — however concerning the legacy Mr. Morales leaves behind.

Throughout Mr. Morales’s time in workplace, he promised to carry many residing on the margins, and in some locations fulfilled that promise, constructing faculties, hospitals and roads. The nation’s poverty rate fell to 35 p.c of the inhabitants from 60 p.c, in accordance with World Financial institution figures.

However Mr. Zelada, the disillusioned Morales supporter, mentioned he finally felt that the previous president wasted his probability to actually remodel the nation. Mr. Morales ran Bolivia amid a commodities increase — with cash pouring into the nation — and his get together managed congress for all 14 years of his presidency.

The president might have finished a lot extra, Mr. Zelada mentioned. He plans to vote for Mr. Mesa.

Mr. Morales’s get together held its ultimate marketing campaign occasion this week in El Alto, an MAS stronghold that sits perched above the capital. It was a block get together, and a whole bunch, if not hundreds, attended. Ladies in conventional skirts gathered underneath a cover of fireworks whereas their husbands tipped beers to the bottom, an providing to Mom Earth.

Loads of voters there had one thing optimistic to say about Mr. Morales, whose face shone from the blue get together flags that crisscrossed the avenue on strings.

However there have been additionally indicators of the previous chief’s waning reputation.

María Flores, 42, stood on the fringe of the get together. Ms. Flores, a touring saleswoman and mom of three, mentioned she appreciated what Mr. Morales had finished for Indigenous girls like her. Many had ascended to skilled roles in recent times, and she or he was proud.

“We had been all the time handled badly,” she mentioned. “Now, not a lot.”

However she had grown bored with Mr. Morales’s errors, significantly his resolution to run for a 3rd after which a fourth time period. “He’s finished good issues,” she mentioned, “however please, relaxation.”

She might be supporting Mr. Arce, she mentioned, however solely as a result of he had promised to maneuver on.

“If he returns,” she mentioned of Mr. Morales, “the folks of El Alto will stand up. We would like another person.”

Reporting was contributed by María Silvia Trigo from Tarija, Bolivia.

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