Morales, banned from running at this time, was watching from Argentina as his former finance minister, front-runner Luis Arce, 57, faced two major competitors, centrist former president Carlos Mesa. , 67, and right-wing nationalist Luis Camacho, 41. The fears were fueled by repeated violence last year that saw mobs burn ballot boxes and fight in the streets, but the early voting time on Sunday seemed calm.
In a surprise decision on Saturday, the Bolivian tribal electoral tribunal announced that it would not release the traditional fast proxy number of the outcome as expected on Sunday. The tribunal said it would only wait to release the results until all the ballots were counted or show the unforgivable trend of the tall. The decision, made in what is described as an abundance of precautions in a highly polarized race, came as both sides voted in favor of others cheating.
Private exit polls are expected to be released, offering insight into an election seen as a measure of the power of democracy in Latin America. But the decision of the electoral council means that Bolivians can wait one or two, and possibly up to a week for official results.
Arce condemned the decision to withhold partial results. He said that his party, the Movement Towards Socialism, or MAS, is taking its own number and will give “priority”; to that result.
“This is a step back in the transparency process,” he told reporters after voting Sunday.
But Mesa called for an understanding of the decision, as partial votes cast sparked violence last year.
“It’s not perfect, but we understand,” he said. “We will be patient and we ask people to be patient.”
Analysts warn that a prolonged delay could change tensions.
“It adds to the uncertainty and anxiety,” said Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network in Cochabamba. “You now have a period of up to a week where anything can happen.”
Going into Sunday, opinion polls showed Arce near the threshold needed for a first-round victory. To avoid a runoff, a candidate must win more than 50 percent of the vote, or at least 40 percent with a 10-point margin of victory.
Analysts say Mesa, who is running second in the polls, will be a favorite in a second round of voting next month, assuming opposition to the socialist coalesces around her. Camacho has trailed both men in the polls by significant margins.
Carla Nina Martínez, a 30-year-old nurse voting in a rural area only asked for La Paz, described herself as a long-time supporter of the left. But he said he is changing his vote this year to support Mesa.
“I appreciate some of the things that President Evo Morales did. Everything went well,” she said. “But in the end, as usual, politics turned out to be bad.”
A covid-19 survivor, he said he blamed the Anez government for a poorly implemented coronavirus plan.
“During the high point of the pandemic, we were not provided with personal care equipment and health personnel ended up being infected,” he said.
Santos Vallejo, 52, said the country’s bad economy amid the coronavirus pandemic led him to vote for the socialists.
Under socialist governments, “we have jobs,” he said outside a polling place in El Alto, a strong socialist office near La Paz. “I believe MAS will win because we, the poor, are with them.”
More than 10,000 troops were called in to maintain peace. In a message clearly aimed at the socialists, influential Interior Minister Arturo Murillo led a demonstration of force on Saturday with military soldiers and armored vehicles on the streets of La Paz. Murillo said the effort was intended to prevent the “return of dictators” – a clear reference to Morales, who was democratically elected three times before his controversial bid for a fourth term last year.
Arce asked to distance himself from Morales. In an interview last week with The Washington Post, Arce said Morales needed to face the justice system to defend himself against “multiple” charges if he returns.
“We think our companion Evo has the right, if he wishes, to return to the country and defend himself,” Arce said.
Faiola reported from Miami. Ana Vanessa Herrero in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.