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Evo Morales. Photo: Fotoholica Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Bolivia is poised between electoral uncertainty and political turmoil amid growing concerns that election day fraud may deny opposition candidate Carlos Mesa the chance to face incumbent president Evo Morales in a December 15 runoff.

The big picture: The Supreme Court's controversial decision to let Morales run for another term set a disillusioned backdrop for Sunday's vote, following a 2016 citizen's referendum that had disapproved of the rule change. Polling suggests a runoff could boost Mesa's chances, making Bolivian voters who already harbor doubts about the transparency of the electoral system even less likely to accept a first-round Morales victory.

Where it stands: In a reversal from preliminary results announced on election night, with nearly 97% reporting, the electoral tribunal reported that Morales won 46.49% of the vote and Mesa won 37.01%.

  • Receiving over 40% of the vote, while also leading the closest opponent by more than a 10% margin, would allow Morales to avoid a runoff.
  • Mesa has rejected the results and called for Bolivians to take to the streets in protest. The Organization of American States and the European Union have called for an audit and the government has said it endorses a recount.
  • Isolated incidents of violence have broken out and demonstrations by supporters of both sides look set to continue, raising the risk of clashes.

Between the lines: Morales’s star was already fading, in the wake of corruption scandals, leadership fatigue and economic anxiety.

  • From 2006 to 2013, when mineral-rich Bolivia benefitted from the global commodities boom, Morales commanded 60% majorities at the polls and was seen as a regional icon of both indigenous political identity and responsible leftwing nationalism, singularly capable of balancing social transformation among the poor with growth for the business sector.
  • With those free-spending days in past, Bolivia still grows 3%–4% a year, faster than most of its neighbors. But without any major natural gas discoveries of late, Morales faces tough economic decisions and has fewer options to prop up the public spending that benefits his rural base.

What to watch: Morales has pledged to respect the result, while accusing the opposition of mounting a coup. If he prevails, he could still end up with a smaller majority in the legislature and may feel pressed to tighten his grip on power in order to enact his agenda.

Michael McCarthy is a research fellow at American University’s CLALS, an adjunct professor at George Washington University's Elliott School for International Affairs, and the founder and CEO of Caracas Wire.

Go deeper

49 mins ago - World

Brazil senators vote to recommend criminal charges for Bolsonaro

Brazilian senators vote on probe into President Bolsonaro's handling of pandemic. Photo: Gustavo Minas/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Brazilian Senate committee Tuesday voted to approve a report recommending President Jair Bolsonaro be charged with a raft of criminal indictments, including crimes against humanity over his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, per AP.

Why it matters: Bolsonaro has become the face of a right-wing approach to the pandemic that includes repudiating vaccines and masks and resisting lockdowns and other mitigation measures. The Senate report holds him personally responsible for half of the country's 600,000 deaths.

Former Georgetown tennis coach pleads guilty to accepting admissions bribes

Gordon Ernst (left) former head tennis coach at Georgetown, outside a courthouse in Boston in 2019. Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

A former Georgetown University head tennis coach has pleaded guilty Tuesday to bribery charges related to facilitating the admission of prospective applicants.

Why it matters: Gordon Ernst solicited and accepted bribes from William Singer, ringleader of the cheating scheme uncovered by Operation Varsity Blues, and families in exchange for helping prospective applicants get into Georgetown as student athletes, according to the Justice Department.

4 hours ago - Health

CDC says some immunocompromised people can get fourth COVID shot

Photo: Noriko Hayashi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in updated guidelines Tuesday that some immunocompromised people who have received either Pfizer or Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines will be able to get a fourth shot.

Details: People over 18 who are "moderately to severely immunocompromised" and have received three doses of an mRNA vaccine may get a fourth shot (of either the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines) at least six months after getting their third Pfizer or Moderna dose, per the CDC.

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