Evo Morales on course for crushing election win.

Evo Morales, the Bolivian President, was expected to win a second term today in elections that are seen as a referendum on his socialist reforms. Observers are predicting a huge majority that would allow him to extend state control over the economy in the impoverished but resource-rich country.

Mr Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, held a lead of more than 30 points over his nearest rival ahead of the vote, drawing almost total support from Bolivia’s long-suppressed Indian majority.

His stridently leftist Movement Toward Socialism was hoping for a two-thirds majority in Congress that would enable it to dictate policies on wealth redistribution and indigenous self-rule.

“There are two roads: continue with change or return to the past,” Mr Morales told tens of thousands of supporters at his final campaign rally.

A former coca-leaf farmer and llama herder raised in extreme poverty, Mr Morales has since his 2005 election championed rights for the indigenous peoples who make up 60 per cent of the Bolivian population but who have long been neglected by the Spanish-descended ruling elite.

Opponents say that Mr Morales, a fierce critic of Washington and a spearhead of the growing Latin American left, is endangering democracy and taking Bolivia down what they consider the same ruinous socialist path as President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, a close ally.

Business leaders have been angered by state takeovers of important industries including gas, oil, mining and telecommunications, with Mr Morales using profits to provide highly popular subsidies to schoolchildren, new mothers and the elderly. His government also intends to nationalise the electricity sector and is pushing ahead with a land redistribution programme that has incensed wealthy ranchers concentrated in the eastern lowlands.

“Sooner or later he’ll nationalise the banks and other sectors will end up in state hands. I can assure you of that,” said Victor Hugo Cardenas, a former vice-president whose house was attacked by a pro-Morales mob earlier this year.

Like Mr Chavez, Mr Morales has developed strong alliances with Iran and Russia as he seeks to counter what he considers malign US influence in the region. Last month, he signed a deal with President Ahmadinejad under which Iran will help Bolivia to exploit its lithium resources, the largest in the world, and affirmed a shared “anti-imperialist” ideology with Tehran.

Bolivia and the United States have had a tense relationship since Mr Morales’s election. In September 2008 the two countries threw out each other’s ambassadors and a month later Mr Morales, a strong proponent of the cultivation of coca for traditional uses, expelled the US Drug Enforcement Agency, accusing it of espionage and involvement in drug trafficking.

Pre-election campaigning has been bitter, with the conservative candidate Manfred Reyes Villa accusing the government of orchestrating an attack on his home and Mr Morales branding his opponent a “thief” whom he will jail once the election is out of the way. He accuses Mr Reyes Villa, a former state governor, of links to the murders of pro-Morales supporters.


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