Bolivian president Evo Morales solidly won a third term as voters rewarded him for bringing economic and political stability to the South American country.
The former coca grower, who is an Aymara Indian, won 60 percent of the vote against 25 percent for cement magnate Samuel Doria Medina, according to a quick count of voting stations by the polling firm Ipsos for ATB television. Morales won 8 of Bolivia's 9 states, including Santa Cruz, a former opposition stronghold and agribusiness center.
"It is a triumph of the anti-colonialists and anti-imperialists," said Morales in a speech. "We are going to keep growing and we are going to continue the process of economic liberation," he said, dedicating his victory speech to Cuba's Fidel Castro and the late Venezuelan president, socialist Hugo Chavez.
The 55-year-old leader is popular in Bolivia for his economic policies that have spread Bolivia's natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses. Though it is still South America's poorest country, there are half a million fewer poor Bolivians the country's first indigenous president first took office in 2006.
Morales has consolidated control over state institutions, including nationalizing key utilities and renegotiating natural gas contracts to give the government a bigger share of profits. His exports increased substantially and Bolivia accumulated record international reserves and sold bonds abroad for the first time in nearly 100 years.
Morales has boosted public works projects including a satellite designed to deliver Internet to rural schools, a fertilizer plant and La Paz's gleaming new cable car system. His newest promise: to light La Paz with nuclear power.
Morales' critics say he had an unfair advantage since he spent millions in government money on his campaign and silenced critical media by letting government allies buy them out. Morales didn't attend the campaign's lone presidential debate and state TV didn't broadcast it.
The Bolivian president has clashed with the U.S. over drug policies; the U.S. considers the country uncooperative in the war on drugs and has halted trade preferences. Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador and the DEA in 2008, accusing them of inciting the opposition, and last year he threw out the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Some experts like former Peruvian drug czar Ricardo Soberon say Bolivia's underground cocaine economy, valued at over $2 billion, gets credit for part of Bolivia's economic boom. Morales promotes coca's traditional uses and claims zero tolerance for cocaine.
Despite his solid win, Morales did not, however, maintain a two-thirds control of Bolivia's Senate and assembly needed to lift term limits. He has not said whether he would seek a fourth term, only that he would "respect the constitution."
--The Associated Press