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Bolivia’s Morales marks 13 years in power, seeks new term

January 22, 2019
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Bolivia's President Evo Morales points from from a balcony at the government palace flanked Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, left, and Bolivia's Foreign Minister Diego Pary, after Morales delivered his annual report to Congress in La Paz, Bolivia, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. Morales is marking 13 years as the leader of the South American country. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Bolivian President Evo Morales celebrated his 13 years in office on Tuesday amid controversy over whether he should be allowed to run again for the presidency.

Last year, Bolivia’s top electoral court accepted Morales’ candidacy for a fourth term despite a constitutional ban and referendum against such re-election. Elections for the next five-year presidential term are set for October.

Morales has presided over an unprecedented economic boom and is credited with lifting millions out of poverty, but he has lost support following allegations about manipulation of the justice system, his insistence to run for another term and corruption scandals.

“It’s our greatest weakness, but I want to tell you that we will not tolerate corruption,” Morales told lawmakers without mentioning the upcoming elections.

During his annual speech to Congress, Morales highlighted his government’s achievements, including economic growth in the Andean nation, which at 4.5 percent is South America’s strongest.

Morales became Bolivia’s first indigenous president in 2005. He supported a 2009 constitution that allowed only two consecutive terms — though he later argued the restriction took effect only after the new constitution was adopted. The former coca farmer was re-elected in 2009 and 2014.

Bolivians rejected a constitutional amendment to allow more than two consecutive terms in a 2016 referendum. But Morales’ party convinced the constitutional court to rule his candidacy was legal, saying term limits violate citizens’ human right to run for office.

An October 2018 poll by the company IPSOS said that 68 percent of Bolivians surveyed opposed his re-election.

“Unfortunately we have a divided country as a result of (Morales’) desire to continue,” said Senator Oscar Ortiz, who plans to run for the presidency. “He should obey the constitution to avoid seeming like someone who wanted to carry out a coup on his own constitution.”

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