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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Bolivia Still a Hard Call to Make for a Candidate

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Bolivia will hold its presidential election on Sunday to choose a successor to left-leaning President Evo Morales, whose seven years in office have seen decades of turmoil come to a head.

Morales has drawn a long line of analysts who do not expect his left-leaning movement to return to power. It has not produced a post-Fidel Castro leader, and there is little expectation that any of the nine candidates that will face off Sunday will beat Morales. But what the three main candidates say about the country’s current direction will be a key to their success, said Hilda Illaramendi, a political analyst who is an observer for the U.S. government’s Democracy Fund.

“Voters will want to go to the polls and tell the presidents: ‘You made this mess, or you made this mess,’” Illaramendi said.

Morales’s relationship with the United States has been fraught since he served as an armed guerrilla fighting the government of Carlos Mesa. Morales won his first presidential election in 2006, winning the support of younger voters, primarily in the coca-growing region of eastern Bolivia that also backed Mr. Morales’s group.

Critics say his success led to him concluding that foreigners can do little to help Bolivia.

In 2012, he led his allies in the legislature to nationalize the country’s energy sector, reviving a nationalistic attitude that had once defined his career. He accused the U.S. government of manipulating the foreign trade system to gain power over the country.

But even Bolivia’s left-leaning elite seems to have soured on Morales. He has brought international recognition to the one-time Bolivian war lord turned coca farmer, and helped found Bolivia’s autonomous municipalities, but he has also included those places, criticized for neglect, in the more authoritarian provision of services. Morales has spent more time talking about coca, the cocaine substitute, than about education, employment or health.

“This revolutionary moment we’re going through needs to end,” said Luis Vasquez, a U.S. activist who travels between Bolivia and the United States as a representative of the Democracy Fund.

Mr. Vasquez said he was disappointed with how people had responded to the 2017 “Frente Amplio”—the Broad Front—alliance between Morales and his chosen successor, Defense Minister Jose Torres, a former military general.

“They have come up with concepts of collaboration, based on what could possibly be achieved, rather than fighting together for all of the good in the country,” Mr. Vasquez said.

The left-leaning candidate Isaias Carpio, a former environment minister who comes from an opposition party, has received most of the other opposition votes.

Freed from an alliance that Mr. Carpio says led him to lose credibility, Mr. Morales announced a surprise run for president last December, putting his party, Movement to Socialism, into politics for the first time since 2015. He has spent most of the past months fighting accusations of corruption and intimidation in the world of public opinion. Mr. Morales’s own party denies the allegations.

The first-round election is expected to end in a runoff on Nov. 26.

Whoever wins, Bolivia may be a rough and difficult place to govern.

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