(Bloomberg) -- Carlos Mesa Gisbert, a former president of Bolivia, says voters should choose him over President Evo Morales in elections this October because he has better policies and because, after 13 years in power, Morales is a near-dictator of the left who could turn the country into another Venezuela.
Mesa, 65, who’s aiming his message at the rising middle class of the Andean nation of 11.5 million, spoke during a mid-June visit to Bloomberg in New York. He accused Morales of fostering "brutal corruption" and pledged to build an independent judiciary, increase press freedom, boost foreign investment, curb drug trafficking and reestablish formal relations with the U.S.
"I´m troubled by Morales’ inclination toward an authoritarian regime that can be transformed into a dictatorship like the one in Venezuela," he said. "This is a dramatic situation for Bolivia. Morales has built a hegemony in power and wants to preserve it."
Bolivia´s Chief of Staff, Patricia Hermosa Gutierrez, deferred questions about the upcoming elections to Jose Manuel Canelas, the Communications Minister. Mr. Canelas didn´t respond to a written request to discuss Mesa´s claims.
In power since 2006, Morales, 59, is South America´s longest-serving leader. The constitution bars him from another term and he lost a referendum two years ago giving him permission to run again. But he got a court to throw out term limits. During his term in office, Morales has overseen significant growth and the halving of Bolivia’s rate of extreme poverty to 17%, according to the IMF.
A former journalist and historian, Mesa said he’s the candidate with a chance of beating Morales, an indigenous populist of the left in a regional political landscape turning to the right.
A June 9 poll by Tal Cual, for the La Paz-based newspaper La Razon, showed Mesa, running for Community Citizen Alliance, with 27.1% of the vote compared with 38.1% for Morales. Oscar Ortiz, for the coalition "Bolivia Says No," is third with 8.7% and Victor Hugo Cardenas, of the Civic Unity for Solidarity, has 3.6%.
If on October 20th no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote or 40 percent with a 10-point lead, the top two candidates will face a runoff on Dec. 15.
Morales is not only facing charges of autocracy but a new test, with oil and gas revenue in decline and Bolivia’s public debt at record levels. Mesa says the country needs to refashion its public debt, which relies heavily on loans from China.
"After 15 years of strong growth and poverty reduction, Bolivia is facing a more challenging period," the International Monetary Fund said in a report in December. Still, it forecasts 4 percent growth this year and 3.9 percent in 2020.
Morales is part of the so-called Pink Tide, a generation of left-wing South American leaders promising social change. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa are gone. Morales’ last ally, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, is locked in a standoff over the legitimate authority in that economically-ravaged country.
"What we lived until now is not sustainable," Mesa said, referring to the years of state-led economic expansion. "Growth was based on public investment and increasing fiscal deficit, external debt." Bolivia needs a "reasonable policy to reduce the deficit, and a significant foreign investment."
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