Exiled former president Evo Morales on Monday signaled his intention to return to Bolivia after his leftist heir Luis Arce's sweeping presidential election victory. Arce, a former economy minister under Morales, claimed victory in Sunday's election after exit polls suggested a crushing triumph over centrist rival Carlos Mesa.
Mesa conceded Monday, saying Arce's 20-point margin of victory was very forceful and very clear. It is up to us, as befits those of us who believe in democracy... to recognise that there has been a winner in this election, said Mesa, a former president.
Exit polls handed over 52% of the vote to Arce, with Mesa mustering just 31.5%, upending predictions he would force a second round runoff in November. Private polling companies showed Arce winning by a similar margin. Official results are expected to take days.
Arce, 57, said his victory was a return to democracy for the divided South American country. We have recovered democracy and we will regain stability and social peace
Much attention now focuses on Morales, whose authoritarian 14-year grip on power left a bitter aftertaste for many Bolivians outside his largely-indigenous Movement for Socialism (MAS) party.
Sooner or later we are going to return to Bolivia, that is not in debate, Morales told a press conference in Buenos Aires.
My great desire is to return to Bolivia and enter my region. It is a matter of time, said Morales, who resigned amid protests after his victory in 2019 elections was annulled over rigging allegations.
Morales resigned on November 10 after losing the support of the armed forces whom he called in to repress street protests, in the midst of the crisis that left 36 dead and hundreds wounded.
Thwarted in his attempt to secure a fourth term, he initially fled to Mexico, but has since settled in neighboring Argentina after leftist Alberto Fernandez's election victory there. Morales thanked Fernandez and Mexican President Manuel Andres Lopez Obrador for their support. He also hailed congratulatory messages from other leftist leaders, Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro and former Uruguayan president Jose Mujica.
Morales said he had even received a call from Argentine Pope Francis on Monday. I felt that I was not alone, he said.
The office of UN chief Antonio Guterres lauded highly participative and peaceful elections, and encouraged political leaders to work together for national reconciliation.
Luis Arce's opponents had warned that a MAS victory would herald the return of the ex-president, who faces arrest in Bolivia on terrorism charges after the right-wing interim government accused him of directing anti-government protests from exile.
He is also being investigated for alleged rape and trafficking over allegations he had relationships with underage girls. Morales dismissed the accusations on Monday, saying they were part of a dirty war being waged against him.