LA PAZ, Bolivia — Adalid Zelada absolutely supported Evo Morales when Bolivia selected him because the nation’s first Indigenous president in 2005.
The way in which many noticed it, giant numbers of Bolivians had been painfully poor, society was deeply unequal and energy was overwhelmingly concentrated among the many white elite. Mr. Morales, a socialist and former llama herder, spoke of equality, ending discrimination and recovering the nation’s sources from international arms.
“They had been superb concepts,” mentioned Mr. Zelada, 47. “However over time, all of it grew to become an authoritarian technique to co-opt energy. And people good concepts grew to become simply phrases.”
As Bolivians head to the polls on Sunday to decide on a brand new president, the election is extensively considered as a referendum on the 14-year political mission of Mr. Morales, a towering determine in Bolivian politics who lifted lots of of 1000’s out of poverty however whose insurance policies and rhetoric usually divided the nation.
Lately, even supporters started to desert him amid allegations of misuse of funds, abuse of energy and, extra just lately, a sexual relationship with a minor.
He fled Bolivia final 12 months after his try and win a fourth time period led to a contested election and lethal protests. Mr. Morales referred to as it a coup. Others accused his authorities of attempting to rig the vote.
Sunday is a redo of final 12 months’s election, and comes at a time of deep polarization, at a stage notable even for a rustic accustomed to division and unrest. Within the weeks main up the election, the United Nations has documented at the least 41 acts of political violence.
Within the streets of La Paz, the executive capital, there may be little settlement about whether or not there was electoral fraud final 12 months. And Mr. Morales’s get together, the Movimiento al Socialismo, or MAS, is casting doubt on the voting system, warning supporters of just about sure “electoral fraud” and a course of stacked in opposition to them.
A current ballot by the nongovernmental group Fundación Jubileo discovered that simply 40 p.c of Bolivians belief the nation’s electoral physique, regardless of main efforts to overtake it since final 12 months.
It might take days for outcomes to come back in.
And when the depend is introduced, giant swaths of the nation are more likely to be offended, political observers say, and violence is an actual chance.
The vote is essentially a selection between Mr. Morales’ handpicked successor, his former economics minister, Luis Arce, and Carlos Mesa, a centrist former president.
Mr. Arce’s enchantment to voters is that he can proceed the socialist motion his predecessor began — whereas being very totally different from Mr. Morales.
Behind his marketing campaign automotive simply earlier than the election, he referred to as Mr. Morales’s choice to run for a fourth time period “an error,” insisted that he would run for under a single time period and mentioned he thought of himself a transitional candidate.
“I’ve little interest in energy,” he mentioned. “I need to transfer the nation ahead, depart it within the arms of younger folks, and I’ll go.”
Mr. Morales, he added, would don’t have any half in his authorities. “We see him as a historic determine.”
Mr. Mesa is operating because the anti-Morales candidate, promising a return to peace after years of political and social division.
Mr. Morales’s wrongdoings, he added, had been papered over by journalists and left-wing politicians “who’ve a fascination with the truth that he was the primary Indigenous president.”
“We’re the one political drive on this nation with the flexibility to start reconciliation, heal the injuries and assemble an area of unity,” he mentioned.
A 3rd candidate, Luis Fernando Camacho, threatens to separate the conservative vote, pushing Mr. Arce and Mr. Mesa to a possible runoff.
Within the streets of La Paz final week, a lot of the dialog was not about Mr. Arce, Mr. Mesa or Mr. Camacho — however concerning the legacy Mr. Morales leaves behind.
Throughout Mr. Morales’s time in workplace, he promised to raise many dwelling on the margins, and in some locations fulfilled that promise, constructing colleges, hospitals and roads. The nation’s poverty price fell to 35 p.c of the inhabitants from 60 p.c, in accordance with World Financial institution figures.
However Mr. Zelada, the disillusioned Morales supporter, mentioned he finally felt that the previous president wasted his likelihood to really remodel the nation. Mr. Morales ran Bolivia amid a commodities increase — with cash pouring into the nation — and his get together managed congress for all 14 years of his presidency.
The president might have completed a lot extra, Mr. Zelada mentioned. He plans to vote for Mr. Mesa.
Mr. Morales’s get together held its remaining marketing campaign occasion this week in El Alto, an MAS stronghold that sits perched above the capital. It was a block get together, and lots of, if not 1000’s, attended. Ladies in conventional skirts gathered below a cover of fireworks whereas their husbands tipped beers to the bottom, an providing to Mom Earth.
Loads of voters there had one thing optimistic to say about Mr. Morales, whose face shone from the blue get together flags that crisscrossed the avenue on strings.
However there have been additionally indicators of the previous chief’s waning recognition.
María Flores, 42, stood on the fringe of the get together. Ms. Flores, a touring saleswoman and mom of three, mentioned she appreciated what Mr. Morales had completed for Indigenous ladies like her. Many had ascended to skilled roles in recent times, and he or she was proud.
“We had been at all times handled badly,” she mentioned. “Now, not a lot.”
However she had grown bored with Mr. Morales’s errors, notably his choice to run for a 3rd after which a fourth time period. “He’s completed good issues,” she mentioned, “however please, relaxation.”
She will likely be supporting Mr. Arce, she mentioned, however solely as a result of he had promised to maneuver on.
“If he returns,” she mentioned of Mr. Morales, “the folks of El Alto will stand up. We would like another person.”
Reporting was contributed by María Silvia Trigo from Tarija, Bolivia.