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Evo Morales claims victory for his party in Bolivia election

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Evo Morales’ party has claimed victory in Bolivia’s presidential election with the majority of votes still to be counted.

More than nine hours after polls closed, barely six per cent of all ballot boxes had been counted and they showed Mr Morales’ handpicked successor, Luis Arce, trailing conservative rival Carlos Mesa.

However, a quick count of sampled polling stations favoured Mr Arce, the candidate for the Movement Towards Socialism (Mas) party by a wide margin.

Two pollsters said the count of official tally sheets showed Mr Arce, the favourite to win, had garnered more than 50 per cent of the votes, compared to 31 per cent for former president Carlos Mesa, said to be the top finisher of four rival candidates.

“We’ve recovered our democracy,” Mr Morales said in brief remarks from exile in Argentina. “Lucho (Arce) will be our president.”

Supporters celebrate after an unofficial rapid count of the vote indicated Bolivia’s socialist candidate Luis Arce is set to win the election (REUTERS)

The election, twice postponed due to coronavirus, is taking place after last year’s turmoil which ended the rule of left-wing Morales, who had been president since 2006.

Violence and protests erupted in the country after he won an unconstitutional fourth term of office.

Mr Morales, the president since 2006, claimed to have won but was forced to quit and fled the country amid widespread accusations of fraud.

The disputed vote was subsequently annulled.

Morales, 60, has been leading the Mas party’s campaign from exile in Argentina, supporting Mr Arce, his former economy minister and making his voice and opinions heard through media interviews and social media. He has portrayed the government of interim president Jeanine Anez as a right-wing “dictatorship”.

 Former president of Bolivia Evo Morales  (Getty Images)

Ms Anez – an arch-rival of Mr Morales – appeared to concede that the socialist movement was set to return to power in a major boost to South America’s beleaguered left.

“I congratulate the winners and I ask them to govern thinking in Bolivia and in our democracy,” Ms Anez said on Twitter.

Mr Arce took a less strident tone and appealed for calm, saying he would seek to form a government of national unity.

“I think the Bolivian people want to retake the path we were on,” Mr Arce declared, surrounded by a small group of supporters, some of them in traditional Andean dress in honour of the country’s Indigenous roots.

Prior to voting, polls showed Mr Arce ahead but lacking enough votes to avoid a November run-off, where conservative voters would likely rally behind Mr Mesa. To win in the first round, a candidate needs more than 50% of the vote, or 40% with a lead of at least 10 percentage points over the second-placed candidate.

Sunday’s vote was on a new president, vice president and 166 members of congress. The vote had been postponed twice due to coronavirus concerns.

The electoral commission said it would not announce preliminary results, but would wait for an official count.

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