Tue, Oct 18, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Bolivian voters deal Morales setback

‘X’ MARKS THE SPOTS:According to an unofficial count, more ballots were spoiled or left blank than those that were valid, in protest of the president’s development plans

Reuters, LA PAZ

A woman looks at an invalid ballot paper with all candidates ticked off and collas e mierda, a derogatory term used by Bolivia’s Aymara people, written across it at a polling station in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, on Sunday.

Photo: EPA

Most Bolivian voters cast spoiled ballots in an election on Sunday to choose national judges, according to unofficial polling results, handing a rebuke to Bolivian President Evo Morales in a vote that had been seen as a test for the leftist leader.

Morales’ traditional base of Indian support appeared to hand him a setback, angered by his plans to build a US$420 million highway through the Amazon and a subsequent police crackdown on protesters opposed to the road’s construction.

If the polling results were matched by official results, the number of spoiled ballots would be seen as the first electoral setback for Morales, the Andean country’s first president of indigenous descent, in his nearly six years in office.

Morales, looking disheartened, declined to discuss the outcome of the election, but said turnout had been high. Voting is compulsory in Bolivia.

Morales’ rightist rivals had urged voters to abstain from voting or cast blank ballots in the first election to directly select Bolivia’s top judges, a proposed reform aimed at bolstering the political clout of the country’s indigenous majority.

Samuel Doria Medina, a center-right opposition leader who headed the movement to spoil ballots, urged winning candidates on Sunday not to take up their positions out of “a democratic consciousness before the majority of void ballots.”

According to the unofficial quick count conducted by Ipsos Apoyo, void votes accounted for between 46 percent and 48 percent of ballots. Valid votes accounted for about 38 percent and the remaining ballots were blank, private television channel ATB said, with 76.2 percent of the count completed. Absenteeism was estimated at around 20 percent.

While the candidates with the highest number of votes would win, regardless of how many invalid votes were cast, analysts said such an outcome is likely to intensify social malaise.

“From now on there will be a citizen movement that will lead us into a spiral of heightening tensions,” analyst Carlos Cordero said.

Discontent has already brewed after police broke up a march against the construction of the Amazon highway, triggering political fallout that led the resignation of the country’s interior minister last month.

“We’re witnessing the consequences of the [repression of the indigenous march],” Bolivian Minister of Autonomy Claudia Pena told local radio.

Bolivia’s 5.2 million registered voters voted to elect 28 members of the four courts with nationwide jurisdiction. Morales had billed the election as “the next step in the refounding of Bolivia.”

Voters were asked to choose members of the country’s four national courts from a list of 116 candidates. Half the candidates were women and many are indigenous. The opposition rejected them because they were picked by the government-controlled Bolivian National Congress.

Until now, these judges were chosen directly by Congress.

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