Bolivians furious over what they saw as an attempt by leftist President Evo Morales to rig Sunday’s election protested outside the hotel in the capital city of La Paz where the country’s electoral board was processing remaining ballots on Tuesday, APA reports citing Reuters La Paz.
With the official vote count at 97%, Morales extended his lead over his chief rival Carlos Mesa to 9.42 percentage points, just short of the 10-point lead he needs to avert a riskier run-off with Mesa.
Even if the pace of Morales’ lead holds and he secures an outright win, the election’s legitimacy has been scarred, with Mesa and his supporters vowing not to recognize that result.
Suspicions of vote manipulation were sparked on Sunday after the official electoral board, Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), abruptly halted an electronic quick count after it showed Morales and Mesa were likely headed to second-round, with 84% of votes tallied.
When the quick count resumed amid an outcry on Monday, Morales had eked out a 10-point lead, sparking criticism from international election observers and a night of rioting across Bolivia, with several electoral offices attacked or set on fire, forcing two people to jump from a burning building in the city of Potosi.
Morales’ government has denied any meddling and has called for calm. But in La Paz and other cities, protests resumed for a second day by nightfall on Tuesday.
“They robbed my vote,” said Steve Quintela, a 31-year-old lawyer as he headed to downtown La Paz. “Of course the vote has been manipulated by the presidency.”
Shouting insults at Morales and chanting “We’re not afraid, damn it!” anti-government protesters filled avenues of the highland capital, moving past police barriers as firecrackers set off to summon more people to the demonstration rang out.
The demonstration was one of the largest in Bolivia in decades, according to a Reuters witness, who put the number of protesters at more than 100,000 people.
Mesa made a surprise appearance at the protest in front of the hotel after returning from Bolivia’s second largest city of Santa Cruz, a key base of his support.
“Right now, a few meters from us, an enormous fraud is being committed to make us think there won’t be a second round vote,” Mesa told crowds in reference to the electoral board. “They’re lying to the country and turning their backs on your vote!”
Police fired tear gas to disperse crowds for more than an hour, with some protesters responding by throwing rocks.