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Last Updated: Monday, 6 December, 2004, 06:29 GMT
New forces dominate Bolivia poll
Aymara peasants march along a Bolivian altiplano road toward the capital La Paz on 13 October 2004
Popular movements among Bolivia's poor are growing
Indigenous groups and independent parties appear to have won strong support in local elections in Bolivia.

Opinion polls had suggested new political and citizens groups were set to pose a stiff challenge to traditional parties.

The new groups emerged in the wake of last year's huge protests at government plans to export Bolivia's natural gas.

They argued such a vital natural resource should remain in Bolivia to benefit everyone, not just the elite.

About four million people were eligible to vote in Sunday's election to choose mayors and councillors in the country's 327 municipalities.

Opposition gains

Unofficial results based on about 80% of the ballots showed candidates from indigenous and peasant organisations winning in major cities.

"These results are tantamount to the sinking of the traditional political parties," political scientist Jorge Lazarte told the Associated Press news agency.

While local elections do not usually arouse much excitement, any test of democracy is always watched closely in politically unstable Bolivia, says the BBC's South America correspondent Elliott Gotkine.

"We will probably see a reshuffle of our political map," said Bolivian President Carlos Mesa after casting his vote as polls opened.

Evo Morales
Evo Morales is now a key figure on the political stage

He urged people to vote to "find the best men and women" to serve on local councils.

Mr Mesa himself came to power just over a year ago after a popular revolt left around 80 people dead and forced the then president to resign.

Mr Mesa, whose term in office ends in 2007, has since brought a measure of stability to Bolivia.

Left-wing opposition politician Evo Morales, leader of Bolivia's coca growers and a key figure in last year's protests, was expected to use the municipal elections as a springboard for his presidential ambitions.

His Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) was expected to win about a quarter of the vote.

Our correspondent says this is largely because many of its rivals, which have dominated the political scene for decades, are discredited by corruption or their support for unpopular economic policies.

The new groups campaign mostly on issues they say are crucial to Bolivians, such as cleaner streets, more access to health and education and better transport.



SEE ALSO:
Bolivia's gas fires new movements
17 Oct 04 |  Americas
Bolivia signs big gas export deal
04 Aug 04 |  Americas
Bolivians 'back gas export plans'
19 Jul 04 |  Americas
Q&A: Bolivian gas protests
18 Oct 03 |  Americas
Country profile: Bolivia
06 May 04 |  Country profiles


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