Voters in Bolivia rejected by a slim margin a constitutional amendment that would have let President Evo Morales run for a fourth consecutive term in 2019, electoral officials announced Tuesday night.
It was the first direct electoral defeat for the leftist coca grower union leader since he first won the presidency in 2005.
The vote was 51 percent to 49 percent against the ballot question, with 99.5 percent of the ballots counted, a margin of just over 150,000 votes, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal reported. The outcome of Sunday's referendum also blocks Vice President Alvaro Garcia from running again.
Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, helped lift millions out of poverty by more equitably distributing natural gas revenues, spurring the creation of an indigenous middle class.
However, his governing Movement Toward Socialism party has been buffeted by scandal. The vote closely followed a revelation that Morales may have been personally involved in influence-peddling.
And Bolivians have been losing patience with his now-entrenched Movement Toward Socialism.
The vote also closely followed a revelation that Morales may have been personally involved in influence-peddling.
"Evo's traditional opposition among the affluent and middle class was joined by a wide swath of voters who have long been a part of his political support," said Jim Shultz, executive director of the left-leaning Democracy Center political advocacy group.
"Their turnaround isn't about moving rightward," but rather a rejection of corruption that reflects a belief "that 20 years is too long for one person to be president," he added.
Until Sunday's ballot, Morales had won nationwide elections, including a 2009 rewrite of the constitution, with an average 61.5 percent of the vote.
The referendum's margin of defeat coincided almost exactly with two unofficial "quick count" samples announced Sunday by polling firms.
The results showed allegations of vote fraud by some members of the opposition to be unfounded, said Jose Luis Exeni, a member of the electoral tribunal.
The vote count had been unusually slow and Vice President Alvaro Garcia said earlier Tuesday that the outcome would be a "cliff-hanger."
He claimed a right-wing conspiracy was "trying to make disappear by sleight of hand the rural vote that favors Morales." Garcia provided no evidence to back the claim.
Organization of American States observers reported no evidence of fraud, and the OAS delegation's leader, former Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez, left Bolivia on Tuesday.
The Associated Press