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In the election, Bolivia faces the legacy of its ruined socialist leader




LA PAZ, Bolivia Adalid Zelada fully supported Evo Morales when Bolivia elected him as the country’s first Indigenous president in 2005.

As many saw, large numbers of Bolivians were in poor pain, society was profoundly unequal, and power was largely concentrated in the white elite. Mr Morales, a socialist and former lame farmer, spoke of equality, an end to discrimination and the recovery of nations’ resources from foreign hands.

Those were very good ideas, said Mr. Zelada, 47. But over time, it all became an authoritarian strategy to co-opt power. And those good ideas became just words.

As Bolivians head to the polls Sunday to elect a new president, the election is widely seen as a referendum on Mr Morales’s 14-year-old political project, a senior figure in Bolivian politics that lifted hundreds of thousands out of poverty, but politics and rhetoric often divided the country.

In recent years, even supporters have begun to abandon him amid allegations of misuse of funds, abuse of power and, more recently, sexual intercourse. with a minor.

He left Bolivia last year after his attempt to win a fourth term ended in a contested election and deadly protests. Mr Morales called it a coup. Others accused his government of trying to manipulate the vote.

Sunday is a re-election of recent years and comes at a time of deep polarization, on a visible level even for a place accustomed to division and unrest. In the weeks leading up to the election, the United Nations has done documented at least 41 acts of political violence.

On the streets of La Paz, the administrative capital, there is little agreement on whether there was electoral fraud last year. And Mr Moraless’s party, Movimiento al Socialismo, or MAS, is casting doubt on the voting system, warning supporters of almost certain electoral fraud and a rallying cry against them.

One last poll by the non-governmental organization Fundacin Jubileo found that only 40 percent of Bolivians trust the country’s electorate, despite major efforts to review it since last year.

It may take days for the results to come.

And when the countdown is announced, large parts of the country are likely to be angry, political observers say, and violence is a real possibility.

Voting is largely a choice between Mr. Morales elected successor, his former economy minister Luis Arce and Carlos Mesa, a former centrist president.

Mr. Arce’s appeal to voters is that he can continue the socialist movement that his predecessor started while he was very different from Mr. Morales.

In the back of his campaign car shortly before the election, he misjudged Mr Moraless’s decision to run for a fourth term, insisted he would only run for a single term and said he considered himself a candidate in transition.

I have no interest in power, he said. I want to take the country forward, leave it in the hands of young people and go bad.

Mr Morales, he added, would have no part in his government. We see him as a historical figure.

Mr Mesa is running as an anti-Morales candidate, promising a return to peace after years of political and social division.

Mr Moraless’s misconduct, he added, had been violated by left-wing journalists and politicians who are fascinated by the fact that he was the first indigenous president.

We are the only political force in this country with the ability to start reconciliation, heal wounds and build a space of unity, he said.

A third candidate, Luis Fernando Camacho, threatens to split the Conservative vote, pushing Mr Arce and Mr Mesa into a possible run-off.

On the streets of La Paz last week, most of the conversation was not about Mr. Arce, z. Mesa or z. Camacho but about the legacy that Mr. Morales la pas.

During the time that Mr. Moraless was on duty, he promised to remove many living on the borders, and in some places he fulfilled that promise, building schools, hospitals, and roads. countries poverty rate fell to 35 percent of the population from 60 percent, according to World Bank figures.

But Mr Zelada, Morales’ disillusioned supporter, said he ultimately felt the former president missed his chance to truly transform the country. Mr Morales led Bolivia amid a boom in cash-strapped goods in the country and his party controlled Congress for all 14 years of his presidency.

The president could have done much more, Mr Zelada said. He plans to vote for Mr Mesa.

Mr Moraless’ s party held its last campaign event this week in El Alto, a MAS stronghold that stands perched on the capital. It was a bloc party and hundreds, if not thousands, attended. Women in traditional skirts gathered under a canopy of fireworks as their husbands threw beers on the ground, an offering to Mother Earth.

Many voters there had something positive to say about Mr. Morales, whose face shone from the blue party flags that ran through the wire.

But there were also signs of the former leaders falling in popularity.

Mara Flores, 42, stood on the edge of the party. Ms Flores, a traveling saleswoman and mother of three, said she appreciated what Mr Morales had done for indigenous women like her. Many had climbed into professional roles in recent years and she was proud.

“We were always treated badly,” she said. “Now, not so much.

But she was tired of Mr. Moraless’s mistakes, especially his decision to run for a third term and then a fourth term. He did good things, she said, but please stop.

She will support Mr. Arce, she said, but only because he had promised to go further.

If he comes back, she told Mr Morales, the people of El Alto will rise. We want someone else.

Reporting contributed by Mara Silvia Trigo from Tarija, Bolivia.

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