(For full coverage, click on [nBOLIVIA])
* Morales holds at least a 30-point lead in polls
* Leftist wants to deepen reforms in second term
* Critics say Morales amassing too much power
By Eduardo Garcia and Kevin Gray
LA PAZ, Dec 6 Bolivian President Evo Morales,
whose leftist economic policies have made him broadly popular
with the poor but angered business leaders, is expected to win
re-election on Sunday, allowing him to expand state control
over the economy.
A victory by Morales would solidify his dominance over
Bolivian politics and further weaken a divided conservative
opposition tied to the country's business elite.
Opinion polls show Morales, an ally of Venezuelan President
Hugo Chavez, taking more than 50 percent of the vote and his
Movement Toward Socialism party could win control of Congress.
Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, nationalized
important sectors of the economy in his first term, including
energy and mining companies, which generated a windfall for
state coffers that he has used to boost social spending.
The cash payments to benefit such groups as school children
and retirees have added to his popularity among Bolivia's
disenfranchised Indian majority that celebrated his defeat of
the country's long-ruling traditional parties four years ago.
"There are two roads: continue with change or return to the
past," Morales told tens of thousands of supporters at his
final campaign rally.
A former llama herder and coca leaf farmer raised in
extreme poverty, Morales faces two conservative rivals, Manfred
Reyes Villa, a former governor and army captain, and wealthy
cement magnate Samuel Doria Medina. [ID:nN02465235]
Morales has cast himself as the only candidate able to
bring prosperity to the poor, and many Bolivians living in
rural areas identify strongly with his humble origins.
He successfully pushed an overhaul of the constitution in a
referendum earlier this year that allowed him to seek a
previously prohibited second term, following moves by other
Latin American leaders who have sought to extend term limits.
Morales vows to extend the hand of the state deeper into
Bolivia's gas- and mineral-rich economy to redistribute wealth
in South America's poorest country. [ID:nN02228485]
He plans to launch state-run paper, cement and drug
companies and develop large lithium, iron and petrochemical
projects to generate more revenue for welfare programs.
Critics charge the cash handouts are a way of buying
political support and do little to lift Bolivians permanently
out of poverty.
The government argues the numbers of poor are falling and
the subsidies have spurred economic growth during the global
Some 60 percent of Bolivians live in poverty even though
Bolivia is home to the second-largest deposits of natural gas
in South America after Venezuela.
The Bolivian economy is expected to grow 2.8 percent this
year, the highest rate in Latin America, according to the
International Monetary Fund.
Morales' opponents maintain that his policy of asserting
greater state control over the economy is scaring away
much-needed foreign investment.
His repeated promises to increase production of natural
gas, the country's main revenue earner, have not materialized
because of a lack of investment in the sector.
Critics also say Morales, an Aymara Indian, has fueled
political polarization between the Andean west, where
indigenous groups are a majority, and eastern regions where
violent anti-government protests broke out last year.
Morales, a self-avowed admirer of Cuban revolution leader
Fidel Castro, is a fierce critic of the United States, which he
calls the U.S. "empire" in fiery speeches railing against
But he has moderated his rhetoric on the campaign trail in
a bid to appeal to the middle class and voters in eastern
regions, whose support he needs to win control of Congress.
Reyes Villa, Morales' leading rival, has lashed out at what
he calls Morales' heavy-handed governing style and said the
Bolivian leader was out to accumulate more power.
"What's in play in this election is democracy," he said.
(Editing by Anthony Boadle)