Bolivian election polls show opposition reeling in President Morales

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LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivian opposition candidates are closing in on President Evo Morales in polls ahead of a general election later this month, with Latin America’s longest continuous standing leader possibly being edged out in a second round run-off.

Morales, a leftist president who has helmed the landlocked nation since 2006, is likely to win the first round on Oct. 20, according to a poll from the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA) and other academic and civil organizations.

However, the margin over the second place candidate, Carlos Mesa, would be sufficiently narrow to warrant a second round head-to-head. Mesa, who leads the Citizen Community alliance, is predicted to get around 27% of the first-round vote.

Presidential candidates in Bolivia need to get above 40% of the vote in the first round and have a 10-point lead over the second place rival in order to avoid a run-off. The winner will assume office in January for a five-year period.

The poll showed both candidates have consolidated support since September, but Mesa has closed the gap on Morales, whose bid for a fourth consecutive term in defiance of term limits has angered some voters in the country.

The poll indicated that in a second round, Mesa - who had a short-lived stint previously as president - could even win by 35.8% of the vote to 35.5% for Morales, who has overseen a period of steady growth in the country.

The survey of 14,420 citizens between Oct. 4-6 is not recognized by the country’s electorial tribunal, who say its financing breaks electoral laws. UMSA has repeatedly defended the poll as the most comprehensive.

Other recent polls indicate that indigenous President Morales, who leads the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, would likely win the first round vote, but they have also suggested that a second-round vote would be needed.

The UMSA poll says it has a margin of error of 2.8%.

Reporting by Monica Machicao; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Richard Pullin