Evo Morales' party has claimed victory in a presidential election that appears to sharply shift Bolivia away from the conservative policies of the US-backed interim government that took power after the leftist leader resigned and fled the country a year ago. The leading rival of Morales's handpicked successor, Luis Arce, conceded defeat on Monday, as did interim President Jeanine Áñez, a bitter foe of Morales. Officials released no formal, comprehensive quick count of results from Sunday's vote, but two independent surveys of selected polling places showed Arce with a lead of roughly 20 percentage points over his closest rival—far more than needed to avoid a runoff. Officials said final results could take days. Áñez asked Arce "to govern with Bolivia and democracy in mind," the AP reports. Arce, meanwhile, appealed for calm in the bitterly divided nation, saying he would seek to form a government of national unity under his Movement Toward Socialism party.
"I think the Bolivian people want to retake the path we were on," Arce declared. He oversaw a surge in growth and a sharp reduction in poverty as Morales' economy minister for more than a decade but will struggle to reignite that growth. The boom in prices for Bolivia's mineral exports that helped feed that progress has faded, and the coronavirus has hit the impoverished nation harder than almost any other country on a per capita basis. Nearly 8,400 of its 11.6 million people have died of COVID-19. Arce, 57, also faces the challenge of emerging from the shadow of his polarizing former boss, whose support helped the low-key, UK-educated economist. Áñez's government tried to overturn many Morales policies and pull the country from its leftist alliances, and Morales faces prosecution on what are seen as trumped-up terrorism charges if he returns home. He said Monday in Buenos Aires that he plans to return to Bolivia. Calling for "a great meeting of reconciliation for reconstruction," Morales said, "we are not vengeful."
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