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Bolivian Free Market Candidate Ensured of Presidency - 2002-07-13

Bolivian political parties are refusing to form alliances, ensuring the candidate who won the most votes in the first round of presidential elections, a free market advocate, will become president. This means an anti-U.S., coca farmers' leader will remain in the opposition.

With his announcement on national television on Friday that he won't support either of the two candidates remaining in the presidential race, former President Jaime Paz Zamora paved the way for another former president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, to take office next month.

Under Bolivia's constitution, since no candidate won close to 50 percent of the vote, newly-elected lawmakers are to vote for the new president August 3. But without a foreseeable majority for either candidate, the top vote-getter in the general election, Mr. Sanchez de Lozada, is virtually ensured of taking office as mandated.

Second-place finisher Evo Morales, a coca-chewing Aymara Indian, is refusing to court any other parties.

Mr. Morales says coalition-building would compromise the will of the people. His positions include halting U.S. backed efforts to end coca growing in Bolivia, which he says deepen the poverty of his supporters.

Bolivia analyst Eduardo Gamarra says Mr. Morales' second place finish in the presidential voting and also his election to Congress will make him very powerful in the opposition. "His role is largely the role of being the critical conscience in Bolivia and in some measure governing as he has said from the streets and also playing a significant role in the legislature," he says.

Mr. Morales brought attention to himself during the campaign when he said the U.S. embassy in Bolivia was plotting to assassinate him. This sparked a strong rebuttal from the U.S. ambassador, warning Bolivia that electing Mr. Morales could jeopardize U.S. aid.

Human rights activist GeorgeAnn Potter says Washington is doing all it can to prevent a Morales victory. "The U.S. has played a very definite role up till now and not just in this 2002 election," she says. "It pretty much tries to run the country in every way for a long time from the embassy and from the State Department of course so certainly it's doing what it can at this point."

State Department officials have said they hope Bolivia's next president will share the U.S. commitment to develop economic relations, improve human rights and fight drug trafficking.

Analysts say it will be extremely difficult for Mr. Sanchez de Lozada to continue with forced eradication policies in coca-growing regions because Mr. Morales now has a national constituency. Mr. Morales says growing coca, which can be chewed as a stimulant, is part of Bolivian pride and that only a little ends up as cocaine. He says he is opposed to drug trafficking, and that the problem is one of demand.

Bolivia was until recently the world's second leading source of coca, the prime ingredient for cocaine.