Bolivian President Morales says result still not clear in referendum

LA PAZ (Reuters) - President Evo Morales asked Bolivians on Monday to wait “calmly” for the official result of Sunday’s referendum on whether he should be allowed to run for re-election, emphasizing that the outcome could still go either way.

Bolivia's President Evo Morales holds a ballot paper during a national referendum in Villa 14 de Septiembre in the Chapare region February 21, 2016. REUTERS/Danilo Balderrama

Morales, 56, who became Bolivia’s first indigenous president in 2006 and is now on his third term, was trying to change the constitution so he could run in the 2019 election and potentially remain in power until 2025.

Preliminary results of Sunday’s vote indicated that he was heading for defeat. By Monday morning, with about 30 percent of the vote counted, the “no” was leading the “yes” by some 63.5 percent to 36.5 percent, according to the electoral commission.

Exit polls, however, had indicated a much closer result - though still an overall “no” - and Morales said it was too early to know the final outcome.

“I am asking all the social movements, of both “yes” and “no”, to calmly and responsibly await the final result from the electoral commission,” he said in a national broadcast Monday.

Rejection would be another blow to South America’s once dominant populist leftist bloc, which is losing steam as voters tire of reports of cronyism and tumbling commodities prices have provided less income to fuel government spending.

Morales’ supporters say he has brought stability and social spending to one of the region’s poorest countries, and, with no clear successor, should be allowed to continue.

The pro-Morales vote is likely to rise as ballots are counted from rural areas and outside the country, and for now celebrations in the “no” camp remain muted.

If he were to fail in the referendum, onetime coca grower Morales said he would retire to his farm after his term was up but not give up the “struggle”.

“Life goes on. If the ‘no’ wins the struggle will continue, the administration will continue, I have a lot of responsibilities and it’s no good despairing whatever the result,” he said.

Reporting by Daniel Ramos, Writing by Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by David Gregorio