A final vote tally by Bolivia's electoral board gave President Evo Morales an outright win in the first-round election on Thursday, as angry protesters marched against him chanting "fraud".
When Bolivia went to the polls last Sunday, there was no surprise over the leading candidates — Evo Morales, the country's current president and Carlos Mesa, his historic rival and former president.
What was more of a surprise was when a few hours later Morales — who has ruled for almost 14 years — proclaimed his victory despite the scrutiny not indicating a clear winner and signalled the need for a second round.
After an election day without any major incidents, the president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) released the first results, showing Morales leading the first round but with Mesa on his heels with less than ten points.
At 83.76% of votes counted, the System for the Transmission of Electoral Results (TREP) showed Morales with 45.28% of the vote and Mesa with 38.16%.
Despite the results pointing to a clear second round, Morales proclaimed an absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate. Shortly after, national media reported that the TSE had interrupted the preliminary vote count without any explanation.
With 99.99% of votes counted by Bolivia's electoral board, Morales secured a 10.56 point lead over his closest rival Carlos Mesa, narrowly avoiding a risky run-off vote.
The remaining 0.01% of ballot sheets were voided but represent just over 500 votes, well short of the 30,000 needed to change Morales' first-round victory.
Election monitors, foreign government and international organisations and the opposition have called on Morales to hold a second vote.
But while some accuse the president of fraud, others claim the people's vote had won again, showing a Bolivia deeply divided.
EU calls for probe
On Tuesday, the EU expressed concern about the "unexpected interruption" of vote counting in the first round of elections in Bolivia.
"The unexpected interruption of the electronic vote-counting after the first round of the general elections in Bolivia has sparked serious concerns that need to be fully and swiftly addressed," said the EU in a statement.
"The Bolivian authorities, in particular, the Supreme Electoral Court, are expected to ensure maximum transparency of the counting and tabulation procedures and their outcomes. This is vital to guarantee the credibility of the electoral process, secure the confidence of the voters and respect the will of the Bolivian people. Recent incidents need to be investigated and we furthermore call on all parties to refrain from violence.
"The European Union has been a major partner of Bolivia in promoting economic and social development, as well as the strengthening of the rule of law. Our cooperation is founded on a shared commitment to democratic values and principles that should be upheld at all times."
OAS "deeply concerned"
The official election monitor, the Organization of American States, had called the count into question and cited a "drastic" and inexplicable shift in the vote, which it said hurt voters' confidence in the electoral process.
Antonio Costas, one of the six-member electoral team coordinating the vote, stepped down on Tuesday in protest at the halt to the rapid count, although he told Reuters he had not come under political pressure.
A number of foreign governments, including the United States, Brazil, and the European Union, also voiced concerns about the integrity of the vote.
At a meeting on Wednesday, the OAS recommended a second-round vote go ahead even if Morales reached a 10-point lead.
In a fiery speech on Wednesday, a defiant Morales blamed the protests and recent violence on the opposition, arguing it was their tactic to hold a coup d'etat.
"I have called this conference to denounce, in front of the Bolivian people and the entire world, that a coup d'etat is in progress. In advance, the right had prepared with international support for a coup," he said from a government office in La Paz.
Later in the day, he sought the backing of Bolivia's military at an event in the region of Cochabamba.
But in a video statement, Mesa called to keep up protests until a second round was confirmed and said he would present evidence of electoral fraud.
Fraud called out on social media
Bolivians have used different platforms to share their concerns over fraud. In La Paz, at least 20 ballot boxes for Morales' left-wing party Movement for Socialism were reportedly found in a private residence. The OAS said it would also investigate those cases and that will make a statement in due time. This video was shared by José Manuel Ormachea, a candidate for deputy Mesa's party.