EL ALTO, Bolivia — Evo Morales easily won an unprecedented third term as Bolivia’s president Sunday on the strength of the economic and political stability brought by his government, according to unofficial results.
Morales, a native Aymara from Bolivia’s poor, wind-swept Andean plateau, received 60 percent of the vote against 25 percent for cement magnate Samuel Doria Medina, the top vote-getter among four challengers, according to a quick count of 84 percent of the voting stations by the Ipsos firm for ATB television.
Doria Medina conceded defeat late Sunday and promised to “keep working to make a better country.”
Morales’s supporters ran into the streets to celebrate the win. In a victory speech from the balcony of the presidential palace in La Paz, Morales dedicated his victory to Cuba’s Fidel Castro and the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.
He won eight of Bolivia’s nine states, including the former opposition stronghold of Santa Cruz, an agribusiness center in the eastern lowlands where he polled 57 percent, according to Ipsos.
While known internationally for his anti-imperialist and socialist rhetoric, the 55-year-old coca growers’ union leader is widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia’s natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses.
A boom in commodities prices increased export revenue nine-fold and the country has accumulated $15.5 billion in international reserves. Economic growth has averaged 5 percent annually, well above the regional average.
Half a million people have put poverty behind them since Bolivia’s first indigenous president first took office in 2006, with per capita gross national income up from $1,000 that year to $2,550 in 2013, according to the World Bank.
Public works projects abound, including a satellite designed to deliver Internet to rural schools, a fertilizer plant and La Paz’s gleaming new cable-car system. Morales’s latest promise: to light up La Paz with nuclear power.
“I voted for Evo Morales because he doesn’t forget the elderly,” said Maria Virginia Velasquez, a 70-year-old widow. Universal old-age pensions — Velasquez gets $36 a month — are among the benefits Morales instituted that have boosted his popularity.
Morales had sought Sunday to improve on his previous best showing — 64 percent in 2009 — and to maintain a two-thirds control of Bolivia’s Senate and assembly. That would let him change the constitution, which restricts presidents to two five-year terms, so he can run again.
He has not said whether he would seek a fourth term, only that he would “respect the constitution.” He did say in a recent TV interview, however, that he didn’t think people older than 60 should be president.
A court ruled last year that Morales could run for a third term because his first preceded a constitutional rewrite. All seats were up for grabs in the 36-member Senate and 130-member lower house. Results were not immediately available.
Morales’s critics say he spent tens of millions in government money on his campaign, giving him an unfair advantage. And press freedom advocates accuse him of gradually silencing critical news media by letting government allies buy them out. Morales didn’t attend the campaign’s lone presidential debate and state TV didn’t broadcast it.