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Riots and Cries of Fraud Roil Bolivia in Knife Edge Vote Count

Matthew Bristow

(Bloomberg) -- Evo Morales is close to securing a fourth term as Bolivia’s president after an election in which updates of a preliminary vote count were mysteriously suspended for 24 hours, triggering violent unrest and accusations of fraud.

With 94% of ballots counted, Morales had 46% versus 38% for his main rival, Carlos Mesa. If Morales wins by more than 10 percentage points, he avoids the need for a December run-off, which he might lose against a united opposition.

The president has strong support in the country’s more remote rural areas, where votes tend to be counted later, so his lead may widen as the final ballots are tallied.

Local media showed images of government buildings in flames, as rival supporters took the streets in major cities. The unrest in Bolivia comes after days of clashes in neighboring Chile, following a rise in metro fares, and more than a week of violence in Ecuador earlier in the month after the government increased fuel prices.

On the evening of the vote, the electoral authority suddenly stopped updating its preliminary vote count, without explaining why. When it restarted, 24 hours later, Morales’s lead had widened, leading Mesa to allege fraud and call on his supporters to mobilize.

“The government, with its decision to mock once again the will of the people is solely to blame for the violence that threatens Bolivia,” Mesa, a former president who was in power for just over a year early in the century, said in a post on Twitter.

Morales invited monitors from the Organization of American States and the European Union to verify that the vote had been fair. The OAS accepted his offer.

The European Union delegation didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment, sent outside normal business hours.

Read More: Political Risk Revived in Latin America as Protests Spread

Bolivia’s government bonds fell the most in emerging markets Tuesday. The nation’s dollar bonds maturing in 2028 fell 2.4 cents to 93.04 cents on the dollar, the lowest since March.

Read more: Bolivia’s Morales Headed for Run-Off Vote as Rival Outperforms

Morales has presided over more than a decade of growth and falling poverty, but this election has been his closest to date. His respect for democracy was questioned after he ignored the result of a 2016 referendum, which would have restricted presidential term limits.

In a 2017 election in Honduras, the vote count stalled when opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla took a five percentage point lead over President Juan Orlando Hernandez. When counting resumed days later, Nasralla’s lead had narrowed and Hernandez eventually took the lead, winning the election and sparking cries of fraud.

To contact the reporter on this story: Matthew Bristow in Bogota at mbristow5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Matthew Bristow at mbristow5@bloomberg.net, Robert Jameson

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