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Last Updated: Monday, 19 December 2005, 09:51 GMT
All eyes on Evo Morales' next step
By Daniel Schweimler
BBC News, Bolivia

In the end victory was far easier than almost anyone would have imagined.

Evo Morales
Evo Morales says the poor should get a fairer share of gas revenues

With the full official results not due for some days, it became apparent early on that Evo Morales had won a convincing victory and will next month become Bolivia's first indigenous president.

Most analysts had said it would be a close race between the former coca leaf grower and former President Jorge Quiroga.

But Mr Quiroga, speaking to his despondent supporters in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, admitted defeat not long after polling had closed.

Rarely can a country have been presented with two such dramatically different candidates.

But then, Bolivia is a divided country, and La Paz a divided city.

At polling stations in the vast sprawling neighbourhood of El Alto, which looks down on La Paz, women in traditional costume, bowler hats and many-coloured skirts, sold food at the entrances.

Aymara was the common language as election officials explained the voting process.

Voters walked or cycled to the polling booths then headed for church or to the market afterwards. All the graffiti was pro-Evo Morales and all the voters spoke about this being a time for change.

Left out

A few hundred metres closer to sea level but just a few kilometres down the mountain, the Zona Sur is a world away.

This is where the wealthy elite of La Paz lives. They came to vote in 4x4s, wearing shorts, sunglasses and newly ironed shirts. Afterwards, they went for coffee at one of the many plush coffee shops nearby.

Aymara indigenous women line up to vote north of La Paz
Indigenous people make up more than 50% of the population

These were natural Quiroga supporters but not everyone conformed to type.

Christoph, wearing a football shirt, said: "I think it's time for change, time for the indigenous people to have their say. Democracy in Bolivia is strong enough, we're ready for this now."

He cannot have been alone since Evo Morales did better than expected in many areas thought to be Quiroga strongholds.

Bolivia's 3.5 million voters wanted change and it looks very much like change is what they will get.

Evo Morales, known simply as Evo to his supporters, has promised to give the country's indigenous people, who make up more than 50% of the population, a greater say in the running of Bolivia's affairs.

Many have felt left out, that a small group of elite businessmen and wealthy families had been running the country for their own benefit for too long.

US watching

Evo has also promised to ensure that Bolivia's poor get a fairer share of the wealth from the country's vast natural gas reserves.

There lies just one of the many problems he will have to face. Just how much of the gas money to take and how much to leave so as not to frighten off foreign investors.

Latin America

Officials in Washington have been watching events unfold in Bolivia very closely. They have said little.

During the last elections, the then US ambassador to La Paz warned that a victory for Evo Morales might mean US aid drying up.

People were so incensed that Mr Morales' vote was boosted by up to 20% bringing him very close to the presidency. They have not made the same mistake again but fear that Evo could prove as big a thorn in their side as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

One problem has been that it is difficult to read Evo. During campaigning he tended to tell audiences what they wanted to hear and often contradicted himself.

What many analysts are asking now is will he side with Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro in forming a left-wing block against US intervention in Latin America?

Or will he, like the Brazilian President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, prove to be a pragmatist once in office.

In his speech accepting defeat, Jorge Quiroga spoke about Bolivian democracy being strengthened. Evo Morales spoke about all elements of Bolivian society working together.

All sides seem to be saying the right things.

But expectations are high and all eyes, in Bolivia, the rest of Latin America and Washington, will now be on President Evo Morales to see just how he goes about putting his words in action.

See Evo Morales' supporters celebrate

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