Americas

Coach Evo? Bolivia’s Morales mulls life after the presidency

Bolivia's President Evo Morales sings his national anthem at a signing ceremony for the expansion of a road that connects the capital with the nearby city of El Alto, in La Paz, Bolivia, Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, one day after a referendum on expanding presidential term limits. Partial results Monday and unofficial "quick counts" indicated Morales' bid to extend his presidency by amending the constitution appeared headed toward defeat. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Bolivia's President Evo Morales sings his national anthem at a signing ceremony for the expansion of a road that connects the capital with the nearby city of El Alto, in La Paz, Bolivia, Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, one day after a referendum on expanding presidential term limits. Partial results Monday and unofficial "quick counts" indicated Morales' bid to extend his presidency by amending the constitution appeared headed toward defeat. (AP Photo/Juan Karita) AP

Amid growing indications that he lost a referendum that would have allowed him to stay in office through 2025, Bolivian President Evo Morales said he wouldn’t cling to power.

Speaking to reporters Monday as preliminary results seemed to dash his reelection aspirations, Morales suggested he might return to farming when his term ends in 2020, saying he could imagine working in coca fields or orange groves and perhaps “having a drink at night to remember the good times.”

In an interview with a Spanish newspaper, he said he would “love to be the director of a sports team.”

Those retirement plans might be needed. With almost half of polling stations reporting late Monday, the national electoral body said the “No” vote was winning 58 percent versus 42 percent for “Yes.” If “Yes” were to win, the constitution would be amended to allow Morales to run in the upcoming election.

Earlier in the day, the 56-year-old president asked the country to wait until all votes were counted, saying that the rural areas, where many farmers have a “blood pact” with the ruling party, might help turn the tide.

“Evidently, the cities don’t like us very much,” he acknowledged.

But he said he wouldn’t fight the outcome even if he lost by one or two votes.

We’ll respect the results. That’s democracy.

Evo Morales

“We’ll respect the results,” he said. “That’s democracy.”

Despite helping turn the country around and overseeing robust economic growth, the nation seems to have tired of Morales, an Aymara community member who was the head of the coca-growers union before winning the presidency in 2006.

During the course of his administration, he embraced Venezuelan-style “21st Century Socialism” — even as he avoided the economic troubles that have plagued like-minded leaders in Caracas and Argentina.

The referendum came as Morales is being hounded by a sex and corruption scandal amid reports that a former lover won millions in no-bid contracts. There are also growing concerns about his crackdown on the news media and opposition.

Morales called the allegations lies that were part of a “dirty war.” He also said the nation should consider launching an investigation into social-media sites that he says helped propagate the rumors.

“In some countries they’ve even toppled governments with misinformation,” he said of the sites like Twitter and Facebook. “They’re making our new generations lose their values.”

Even without confirmed results, the opposition was celebrating.

The people said “no to reelection and to life-long power,” Samuel Doria, a presidential candidate and head of the National Unity party, wrote on Twitter.

Sunday’s defeat (if confirmed) would be a stunning reversal for Morales, who had grown accustomed to breezing through elections. He won the 2014 race with 61 percent of the vote.

The referendum results are also another hit to Latin America’s leftist governments, which had been on the ascendency for more than a decade. In November, Mauricio Macri, the center-right opposition mayor of Buenos Aires, won the presidency in Argentina — besting the candidate of Cristina Fernández’s party. The following month, Venezuela’s opposition won congress for the first time in 17 years.

On Monday, Henrique Capriles, a Venezuelan former presidential candidate who has been advocating for the recall of President Nicolás Maduro, said the results in Bolivia were heartening.

“Alternating power is democracy,” he said in a statement. “Power is on loan from the people and it has an expiration date; that’s what’s healthy for Bolivia and any country in the world.”

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