Bolivia Heads to Polls in Test of Evo Morales’ Popularity

Jonathan Roeder and Bruce Douglas

(Bloomberg) -- Bolivians headed to the polls on Sunday as President Evo Morales seeks to avoid a run-off election in his bid for a fourth term.

Voting has gone smoothly, according to the South American nation’s electoral tribunal. Preliminary results are expected at 7:45 p.m. local time.

Morales, 59, needs 50% of the ballot -- or 40% together with a 10-point lead over his closest rival -- to avoid a run-off vote. Polls suggest he has a good shot at pulling that off, though the result may be closer than in previous contests. An Ipsos Bolivia poll published Oct. 13 put Morales at 40% with his nearest rival, Carlos Mesa, at 22%, with a 2% margin of error.

Oscar Ortiz, a senator from the nation’s wealthy agricultural heartland of Santa Cruz, has placed third in preference polls.

Morales has presided over more than a decade of strong economic growth, rising incomes and falling poverty. But after ignoring the result of a 2016 referendum on presidential term limits, he faces an opposition increasingly critical of his democratic credentials as well as signs that his economic model is starting to run out of road.

The country of 11 million has sought to compensate for a decline in gas exports with public spending. That has resulted in a fiscal deficit that Bolivian economist Hugo Siles says is “unsustainable.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Roeder in Chicago at jroeder@bloomberg.net;Bruce Douglas in Brasilia Newsroom at bdouglas24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anne Riley Moffat at ariley17@bloomberg.net, James Ludden, Ros Krasny

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