Oct 18, 2020 15:11 UTC
  • Bolivians hope presidential election will restore political stability

Bolivians began voting on Sunday in a presidential election many hope can restore stability to a nation that was plunged into turmoil after a fraught and eventually voided vote last year, leaving the country in the hands of an interim president.

Polls opened at 8:00 am (1200 GMT) in an election that will not feature former president Evo Morales for the first time in 20 years.

Morales, who resigned and fled into exile, is barred from taking part but his successor as leader of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, Luis Arce, has topped every poll since he was nominated in January.

Tensions have been running high with MAS warning of a pending "fraud" and threatening to protest should they not get their way, while misinformation has been circulating freely.

"Obviously there will be social upheaval ... we just hope it won't last long," Clara Quitalba, 49, from the MAS bastion of EL Alto on the outskirts of La Paz said.

Bolivia erupted in violence late last year when Morales sought a fourth term in a disputed election that has since been annulled. The violence cost at least 30 lives, sparked food shortages and forced Morales to resign after almost 14 years in power.

Arce is expected to win Sunday's first round but the question is whether the 57-year-old can achieve the required 40 percent with a 10-point lead to avoid a run-off.

Polls suggest centrist former president Carlos Mesa, 67, will take enough votes to ensure there is a run-off, which he would be expected to win with the other four candidates likely to then endorse him.

A last-minute decision by Bolivia's electoral authority not to release preliminary results on Sunday night has added a layer of tension to the election. Morales said the decision was "highly worrying," while Mesa's party said it was disappointing but understandable.

It was not clear when the first official results will now be available, although private firms are still expected to conduct exit polling.

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