Finance

Bolivia's Arce pledges to "rebuild" as landslide election victory confirmed

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© Reuters. Movement For Socialism (MAS) presidential candidate Luis Arce poses for a photo during an interview with Reuters in La Paz

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By Daniel Ramos

LA PAZ (Reuters) – Bolivian President-elect Luis Arce pledged on Friday to "rebuild" the Andean country after a turbulent year of political unrest and pandemic, as the official vote confirmed a landslide victory for his socialist party.

The latest record showed that Arce won just over 55% of the vote and brought the socialists back to power amid protests just one year after the overthrow of left-wing party leader Evo Morales.

The victory draws the curtain on a painful period for Bolivia after an election late last year was followed by controversial fraud allegations that sparked violent protests, looting and blockades, and eventually led Morales to resign.

"Now our big challenge is to rebuild our homeland in peace, to regain joy, stability and hope for a better tomorrow for all Bolivians," said Arce on social media in response to the end result with a video of his support across the country.

"We will not disappoint the trust that people have placed in us."

The count put Arce, a pragmatic economist credited with promoting Bolivia's boom years from the mid-2000s, more than 26 points ahead of centrist Carlos Mesa's runner-up, who had just under 29% – a far larger gap than expected.

Arce, who was Minister of Commerce under Morales, was seen as a moderating voice in his administration. He told Reuters this week that Morales would play no role in its administration.

Morales lives in exile in Argentina but remains president of Arce's party, the movement for socialism, and played a key role in the election of Arce as the party's candidate.

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and an economic slide, the vote was a heavy blow to the centrist and conservative parties of Bolivia, which played a minor role in Morales' nearly 14-year term in office.

Caretaker's president, Jeanine Anez, who took office last year amid a power vacuum, pulled out of the running ahead of the election, while Mesa ran a subdued campaign. Third placed Luis Camacho was limited to a small conservative base.

Mesa, who also finished second in the vote that had been invalid since 2019, congratulated Arce on Twitter despite admitting defeat earlier in the week when quick counts showed a big Arce win.

"We will remain vigilant in the democratic opposition that fulfills the mandate of the people," Mesa said.

Governments and observers have announced the election as peaceful and transparent – in contrast to the 2019 vote, which led to street battles between party fans and security forces and the deaths of over 30 people.

Salvador Romero, the head of Bolivia's electoral authority, said in a press conference late Friday that Bolivia could celebrate "the Count's closure," adding that there had been a large turnout despite the pandemic.

"With a turnout of 88%, Bolivians set the second highest record in our history and one of the highest in Latin America in the 21st century," he told reporters.

"This confirms how people want to live in peace and with institutions serving their mission, and rejected the threatening predictions of confrontation and violence."

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