Bolivian interim President Anez withdraws from election race with socialists ahead in polls

FILE PHOTO: Bolivia's interim President Jeanine Anez attends a ceremony at the presidential palace in La Paz, Bolivia March 13, 2020. REUTERS/David Mercado

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivia’s conservative interim president, Jeanine Anez, pulled out of next month’s general election on Thursday, a move that should strengthen other candidates running against the front-running socialist party of ex-leader Evo Morales.

Anez said in a video message she sought to unify those opposing the candidate for the party of Morales, who resigned last year after an election sparked widespread protests. Anez, a former senator, took office in the power vacuum that followed Morales’ departure.

The Oct. 18 vote is the delayed rerun of the 2019 ballot. Anez’s candidacy had sparked controversy after she initially ruled herself out and pledged to guide the country to transparent new elections. Socialist candidate Luis Arce of the MAS party leads in opinion polls, followed by centrist former President Carlos Mesa. Anez had been in fourth place.

“Today I put aside my candidacy for the presidency of Bolivia, for the sake of democracy,” Anez said, citing “the risk that the vote is divided among several candidates and that as a result of that division, the MAS would end up wining.”

“If we don’t unite, Morales will return. If we don’t unite, democracy loses,” she said, calling for unity among voters opposed to MAS. She declined to say which candidate she planned to vote for.

By pulling out of the race, Anez could increase chances that the election will be pushed to a second round by consolidating the anti-Arce vote.

To avoid a second round, the election winner requires at least 40% of valid votes in the first round and a 10-point advantage over the closest competitor.

Arce has more than 40.3% support from likely voters, according to a recent poll, while Mesa was at 26.2%, conservative anti-Morales activist Luis Fernando Camacho at 14.4% and Anez at 10.6%.

Reporting by Daniel Ramos and Monica Machicao; Writing by Adam Jourdan and Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Peter Cooney