LA PAZ, Bolivia – Adalidas Zelada fully supported Evo Morales when in 2005 Bolivia elected him the country’s first indigenous president.
For many to see, many Bolivians were painfully poor, society was deeply unequal, and power was largely concentrated among the white elite. Mr. Morales, a socialist and former llama pastor, spoke of equality, the elimination of discrimination, and the recovery of the nation’s resources from foreign hands.
“It was a very good idea,” he said. Zelada. “But over time, all of this has become an authoritarian strategy of power choice. And those good ideas became just words. “
As Bolivians go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president, the election is widely seen as a referendum on Mr Morales, a 14-year-old high-ranking Bolivian politician who has lifted hundreds of thousands out of poverty but whose policies and rhetoric have often divided the country.
In recent years, even supporters have begun to drop his allegations of misuse of funds, abuse of power and, more recently, sexual intercourse. with a minor.
He he fled Bolivia last year after his attempt to win his fourth term ended in disputed elections and deadly protests. Mr Morales called it a coup. Others accused his government of trying to hold a vote.
Sunday is a remake of last year’s election and takes place during a period of deep polarization, at a level noticeable even to a country accustomed to division and unrest. In the weeks leading up to the election, the United Nations did so documents at least 41 acts of political violence.
There is little consensus on the streets of the administrative capital, La Paso, as to whether there was any electoral fraud last year. Mr Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo, or MAS, is questioning the voting system, warning supporters of almost some “election fraud” and the process against them.
Recently survey the NGO Fundación Jubileo found that only 40 percent of Bolivians trust the country’s electoral body, despite significant efforts to restructure it since last year.
It may take a few days for the results to appear.
With the release of the census, large troops in the country are likely to be angry, political observers say, and violence is a real possibility.
The vote depends largely on the chosen successor of Mr Morales, former Economy Minister Louis Arce and centrist former President Carlos Mesos.
Mr Arce appeals to the electorate that he can continue the socialist movement started by his predecessor, although very different from Mr Morales.
At the back of his campaign car, just before the election, he called Mr Morales’ decision to run for a fourth term a “mistake”, demanded that he run for only one term, and claimed to be a transitional candidate.
“I’m not interested in power,” he said. “I want to move the country forward, leave it in the hands of young people and go.”
Mr Morales, he added, would not participate in his government. – We value him as a historical personality.
Mr Mesa is running as an anti-Morales candidate, promising to return to peace after many years of political and social divisions.
Mr Morales’ violations, he added, were recorded by journalists and left-wing politicians “who are fascinated by the fact that he was the first indigenous president.”
“We are the only political force in this country that can start reconciliation, heal wounds and create a space of unity,” he said.
Third candidate Luis Fernando Camacho threatens to split the Conservative vote, pushing Mr Arce and Mr Mesa into a potential leak.
In the streets of La Paso last week, much of the conversation was not about Mr Arce, Mr Mesa or Mr Camacho, but about the legacy that Mr Morales left.
Mr Morales, in office, promised to lift many people living on the outskirts, and in some places he fulfilled that promise by building schools, hospitals and roads. Country poverty rate fell to 35 percent of the population from 60 percent, according to World Bank data.
But a frustrated Morales supporter, Mr Zelada, said he eventually thought the former president had wasted his chance to actually restructure the country. Mr Morales has led Bolivia between a commodity boom – money has flowed into the country – and his party-controlled congress for all 14 years of presidency.
The president could have done much more, Mr. Zelada. He plans to vote for Mr. Mesa.
Mr Morales’ party held the last campaign event this week in El Alto, the MAS fortress above the capital. It was a block party attended by hundreds, if not thousands. Women in traditional skirts gathered under a canopy of fireworks, and their men poured beer on the ground, a sacrifice to Mother Earth.
Many voters had something positive to say about Mr. Morales, whose face shone from the blue party flags that crossed the avenue through the strings.
But there were also signs of popularity for the former leader.
María Flores, 42, was standing at the party. Ms Flores, a traveling saleswoman and mother of three, said she appreciated what Mr Morales had done for local women like her. In recent years, many have held professional roles, and she has been proud.
“We’ve always been treated badly,” she said. “Not so much now.”
However, she was fed up with Mr Morales’ mistakes, in particular his decision to run for a third term and then a fourth term. “He did good things,” she said, “but please rest.
According to her, she will support Mr Arce, but only because he has promised to move on.
“If he comes back,” she said of Mr Morales, “the people of El Alto will rise. We want something else.”
María Silvia Trigo from Tarija, Bolivia, contributed to the report.