Bolivia goes to the polls today to elect a new president. Slightly ahead is Evo Morales, an anti-US Indian leftist who defends the growing of coca leaves and has vowed to end free-market policies. If he wins he would become Bolivia’s first indigenous president. But neither Morales nor the other candidates are expected to get 51 per cent of the vote, which means that Congress will choose the president, a mechanism which has often left the country’s leader without a clear mandate in the past.
Jorge Quiroga is hoping to become Bolivia’s head of state for a second time. The conservative candidate served from 2001 to 2002. Unlike Morales he has called for a ‘zero coca’ policy and a crackdown on the roadblocks that cripple the country during protests. He also says he will concentrate on getting the Andean nation’s foreign debt cancelled. The new leader will have to decide how to move forward in developing Bolivia’s rich natural gas fields, which are the focus of demonstrations calling for the nationalisation of energy resources. But the fear is that whoever gets elected, the country will soon return to the street protests, roadblocks and strikes that have plagued Bolivia over recent years. Leaders were toppled by riots in 2003 and 2005.