Bolivians have been voting in presidential elections which could see the country elect its first Indian leader. Evo Morales, a coca grower turned congressman, is expected to top the poll. The 46-year old calls his leftist movement “a nightmare for the United States.” He wants to legalize the farming of coca leaves for traditional uses such as tea and toothpaste and has pledged to nationalise the country’s rich natural gas resources.
His main rival is Jorge Quiroga, who backs US coca eradication policies and has promised to keep Bolivia on a free-market course. He draws much of his support from the country’s middle and upper classes and has formed his own Democratic Social Power party in a bid to distance himself from the more prominent parties. Many Bolivians worry the country will return to social upheaval no matter who wins.
Massive street protests have forced out two presidents in the last three years and the country is split between the conflicting demands of the disenfranchised Indian majority and the ruling white elite. If none of the candidates obtain 50 percent of the vote, congress will have to choose a president between the top two candidates in January.