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In Election, Bolivia Confronts the Legacy of Its Ousted Socialist Chief

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Adalid Zelada absolutely supported Evo Morales when Bolivia selected him because the nation’s first Indigenous president in 2005.

The way in which many noticed it, giant numbers of Bolivians have been painfully poor, society was deeply unequal and energy was overwhelmingly concentrated among the many white elite. Mr. Morales, a socialist and former llama herder, spoke of equality, ending discrimination and recovering the nation’s sources from overseas arms.

“They have been superb concepts,” mentioned Mr. Zelada, 47. “However over time, all of it grew to become an authoritarian technique to co-opt energy. And people good concepts grew to become simply phrases.”

As Bolivians head to the polls on Sunday to decide on a brand new president, the election is extensively considered as a referendum on the 14-year political venture of Mr. Morales, a towering determine in Bolivian politics who lifted tons of of hundreds out of poverty however whose insurance policies and rhetoric usually divided the nation.

In recent times, even supporters started to desert him amid allegations of misuse of funds, abuse of energy and, extra not too long ago, a sexual relationship with a minor.

He fled Bolivia final 12 months after his try and win a fourth time period led to a contested election and lethal protests. Mr. Morales known as it a coup. Others accused his authorities of making an attempt to rig the vote.

Sunday is a redo of final 12 months’s election, and comes at a time of deep polarization, at a degree notable even for a rustic accustomed to division and unrest. Within the weeks main up the election, the United Nations has documented a minimum of 41 acts of political violence.

Within the streets of La Paz, the executive capital, there may be little settlement about whether or not there was electoral fraud final 12 months. And Mr. Morales’s occasion, the Movimiento al Socialismo, or MAS, is casting doubt on the voting system, warning supporters of virtually sure “electoral fraud” and a course of stacked in opposition to them.

A latest ballot by the nongovernmental group Fundación Jubileo discovered that simply 40 p.c of Bolivians belief the nation’s electoral physique, regardless of main efforts to overtake it since final 12 months.

It may take days for outcomes to return in.

And when the depend is introduced, giant swaths of the nation are more likely to be offended, political observers say, and violence is an actual risk.

The vote is essentially a alternative between Mr. Morales’ handpicked successor, his former economics minister, Luis Arce, and Carlos Mesa, a centrist former president.

Mr. Arce’s enchantment to voters is that he can proceed the socialist motion his predecessor began — whereas being very completely different from Mr. Morales.

At the back of his marketing campaign automobile simply earlier than the election, he known as Mr. Morales’s determination to run for a fourth time period “an error,” insisted that he would run for under a single time period and mentioned he thought-about himself a transitional candidate.

“I’ve little interest in energy,” he mentioned. “I wish to transfer the nation ahead, depart it within the arms of younger folks, and I’ll go.”

Mr. Morales, he added, would don’t have any half in his authorities. “We see him as a historic determine.”

Mr. Mesa is working because the anti-Morales candidate, promising a return to peace after years of political and social division.

Mr. Morales’s wrongdoings, he added, had been papered over by journalists and left-wing politicians “who’ve a fascination with the truth that he was the primary Indigenous president.”

“We’re the one political pressure on this nation with the flexibility to start reconciliation, heal the injuries and assemble an area of unity,” he mentioned.

A 3rd candidate, Luis Fernando Camacho, threatens to separate the conservative vote, pushing Mr. Arce and Mr. Mesa to a possible runoff.

Within the streets of La Paz final week, a lot of the dialog was not about Mr. Arce, Mr. Mesa or Mr. Camacho — however concerning the legacy Mr. Morales leaves behind.

Throughout Mr. Morales’s time in workplace, he promised to carry many dwelling on the margins, and in some locations fulfilled that promise, constructing faculties, hospitals and roads. The nation’s poverty charge fell to 35 p.c of the inhabitants from 60 p.c, in accordance with World Financial institution figures.

However Mr. Zelada, the disillusioned Morales supporter, mentioned he finally felt that the previous president wasted his probability to actually remodel the nation. Mr. Morales ran Bolivia amid a commodities growth — with cash pouring into the nation — and his occasion managed congress for all 14 years of his presidency.

The president may have executed a lot extra, Mr. Zelada mentioned. He plans to vote for Mr. Mesa.

Mr. Morales’s occasion held its ultimate marketing campaign occasion this week in El Alto, an MAS stronghold that sits perched above the capital. It was a block occasion, and tons of, if not hundreds, attended. Girls in conventional skirts gathered below a cover of fireworks whereas their husbands tipped beers to the bottom, an providing to Mom Earth.

Loads of voters there had one thing optimistic to say about Mr. Morales, whose face shone from the blue occasion flags that crisscrossed the avenue on strings.

However there have been additionally indicators of the previous chief’s waning recognition.

María Flores, 42, stood on the fringe of the occasion. Ms. Flores, a touring saleswoman and mom of three, mentioned she appreciated what Mr. Morales had executed for Indigenous girls like her. Many had ascended to skilled roles lately, and she or he was proud.

“We have been at all times handled badly,” she mentioned. “Now, not a lot.”

However she had grown uninterested in Mr. Morales’s errors, notably his determination to run for a 3rd after which a fourth time period. “He’s executed good issues,” she mentioned, “however please, relaxation.”

She shall be supporting Mr. Arce, she mentioned, however solely as a result of he had promised to maneuver on.

“If he returns,” she mentioned of Mr. Morales, “the folks of El Alto will stand up. We would like another person.”

Reporting was contributed by María Silvia Trigo from Tarija, Bolivia.

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