LA PAZ, Bolivia — Adalid Zelada totally supported Evo Morales when Bolivia selected him because the nation’s first Indigenous president in 2005.
The best way many noticed it, massive numbers of Bolivians had 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 assets from overseas arms.
“They had been excellent concepts,” stated Mr. Zelada, 47. “However over time, all of it turned an authoritarian technique to co-opt energy. And people good concepts turned 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 a whole lot of hundreds out of poverty however whose insurance policies and rhetoric usually divided the nation.
Lately, 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 to win a fourth time period resulted in a contested election and lethal protests. Mr. Morales known as it a coup. Others accused his authorities of attempting 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’s 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 just about sure “electoral fraud” and a course of stacked in opposition to them.
A current 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, massive swaths of the nation are prone to be indignant, political observers say, and violence is an actual risk.
The vote is essentially a selection between Mr. Morales’ handpicked successor, his former economics minister, Luis Arce, and Carlos Mesa, a centrist former president.
Mr. Arce’s attraction to voters is that he can proceed the socialist motion his predecessor began — whereas being very totally different from Mr. Morales.
At the back of his marketing campaign automotive 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 stated he thought of himself a transitional candidate.
“I’ve no real interest in energy,” he stated. “I need to transfer the nation ahead, depart it within the arms of younger folks, and I’ll go.”
Mr. Morales, he added, would haven’t 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 drive on this nation with the power to start reconciliation, heal the injuries and assemble an area of unity,” he stated.
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 in regards to the legacy Mr. Morales leaves behind.
Throughout Mr. Morales’s time in workplace, he promised to elevate many residing on the margins, and in some locations fulfilled that promise, constructing colleges, hospitals and roads. The nation’s poverty price 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, stated he finally felt that the previous president wasted his probability to really rework the nation. Mr. Morales ran Bolivia amid a commodities increase — with cash pouring into the nation — and his occasion managed congress for all 14 years of his presidency.
The president may have finished a lot extra, Mr. Zelada stated. 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 a whole lot, if not hundreds, attended. Girls in conventional skirts gathered underneath 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, stated she appreciated what Mr. Morales had finished for Indigenous girls like her. Many had ascended to skilled roles in recent times, and he or she was proud.
“We had been all the time handled badly,” she stated. “Now, not a lot.”
However she had grown bored with Mr. Morales’s errors, notably his determination to run for a 3rd after which a fourth time period. “He’s finished good issues,” she stated, “however please, relaxation.”
She shall be supporting Mr. Arce, she stated, however solely as a result of he had promised to maneuver on.
“If he returns,” she stated of Mr. Morales, “the folks of El Alto will stand up. We wish another person.”
Reporting was contributed by María Silvia Trigo from Tarija, Bolivia.