LIMA, Peru — Evo Morales’ bid to be president of Bolivia for nearly 20 uninterrupted years looks set to fail. With 72% of the votes counted from Sunday’s referendum on allowing presidents to be reelected twice consecutively, the “No” campaign had garnered 55%. If that result is confirmed by the final tally, as most experts expect, it will mark the first time the self-described socialist has lost at the ballot box since assuming power in January 2006.
In the last 10 years Morales — an indigenous Aymara who used to grow coca and who has long had an antagonistic relationship with Washington — won reelection twice, in 2009 and 2014. He also won two previous referendums, both in 2008: one to see whether he should continue in office, and another to approve the same constitution that he now wants to amend.
That constitution allows presidents to be reelected twice, once straight after their first term and a second time after they sit out a term. The 56-year-old was only able to run in 2014 after he argued — controversially but also successfully — that his first election did not count because it came under a previous constitution.
Morales, however, was being cautious, saying on Monday that his Movement for Socialism party would “patiently wait for the final whistle” from the country’s electoral authorities before conceding defeat. But he also railed against the role played by social media in the election, an example of the supposed authoritarianism that his critics often complain about.
“Perhaps in the future, it will be important to debate this issue of the social media,” he said. “In some countries, with bad information, they bring down governments.”
A key figure in the leftist “pink tide” that has swept Latin America over the last decade-and-a-half, Morales has been hugely popular in Bolivia.