Bolivia election poll suggests outright victory for Morales' candidate

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Luis Arce, the candidate for the party of Bolivia’s former socialist president Evo Morales, could win next month’s election in the first round, with opposition to him fragmented among rival parties, an opinion poll suggested on Wednesday.

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The large-scale Jubileo Foundation poll, carried out by universities and media organizations, found 40.3% of Bolivians would vote in the Oct. 18 general election in favor of the Movement towards Socialism (MAS), whose presidential candidate is Arce.

Arce is a former economy minister and Morales loyalist.

Carlos Mesa, a former president, came second in the poll - which discarded undecideds - with 26.2%, while current interim President Jeanine Añez trailed behind with 10.6%.

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

The survey was conducted between Sept. 3 and 7 among 15,979 people around the country, with a confidence level of 95%, according to the pollsters, an alliance of more than 20 Bolivian organizations.

Last week, a Ciesmori poll suggested MAS would be three percentage points short of a first-round electoral win.

If the vote were to go to a second round, Mesa could cross the line if he could persuade supporters of the other non-MAS candidates to back him, analysts have said.

Franklin Pareja, a political scientist at San Andres University, said it was notable how MAS had managed to dodge scandals swirling around its former leader Morales, who is in exile in Argentina, while Mesa had failed to gain traction among voters.

“The other notable aspect is the significant disappointment for Añez, who despite having projected herself as a great leader, today has absolutely no chance,” he said.

MAS spokesman Sebastian Michel said the party was now going after the almost 30% of people the latest poll suggested were undecided. A debate between the presidential candidates is scheduled for Oct. 8.

Reporting by Danny Ramos and Monica Machicao, writing by Aislinn Laing, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien