Bolivia rejects new re-election bid by president: media

Bolivian President Evo Morales votes on February 21, 2016 (AFP Photo/) (AFP)

La Paz (AFP) - Bolivians on Sunday rejected leftist President Evo Morales' bid to seek a fourth term and potentially extend his presidency until 2025, local media reported.

Already the country's longest serving leader, Morales lost a referendum 52.3 percent to 47.7 percent, according to Ipsos exit polls -- unofficial figures cited on private ATB television.

It was the worst -- and first -- national political defeat for Morales, who has led the Andean nation for a decade.

He had said he expected to see 70 percent in support of his bid.

Last month, he became the longest serving president since Bolivia's independence from Spain in 1825 -- a rare accomplishment in a country known for military coups and shaky, short-lived governments.

Now 56, he is Bolivia's first democratically elected president of indigenous heritage.

The campaign formally ended on Thursday but continued furiously on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter throughout the weekend.

Morales has overseen robust economic growth in Bolivia, but opponents accuse him of presiding over corruption and investing in flashy infrastructure projects at the expense of health and education.

Morales's most recent, and perhaps most damaging, scandal relates to charges of favoritism shown to CAMC, a Chinese engineering company that won the bid for a major railroad expansion project.

One of the top managers at CAMC's La Paz office is Gabriela Zapata, 28 -- Morales's former girlfriend.

Morales is single and has recruited his older sister to perform the functions of first lady.

However, he recently admitted to having a child with Zapata during a two-year relationship that began in 2005 when she was 18. Morales said the child later died.

The president rejected corruption allegations as "a hoax by the US embassy" to discredit him, and insists that he has "nothing to hide."

In an attempt to clear his name, Morales has asked state accounting authorities to investigate the process by which the government signed contracts worth $576 million with CAMC.

Congress has also opened a probe into the corruption allegations.

A close ally of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, Morales tested his fortune at a time of disenchantment elsewhere in Latin American with longtime leftist leaders.