October 13, 2014 / 4:21 PM / in 4 years

Bolivia's Morales to stick to pragmatic leftist policies in new term

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivian President Evo Morales, who easily won a third term in a weekend election, said on Monday he would stick to his brand of pragmatic socialism, respecting private property while expanding the state’s role in the economy.

Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks during a news conference at the presidential palace in La Paz, October 13, 2014. REUTERS/David Mercado

Morales, a former coca grower who became Bolivia’s first indigenous president in 2006, comfortably won Sunday’s election.

Although official results were coming in slowly, a TV exit poll said Morales won about 60 percent of the vote and his main opposition rival, cement magnate Samuel Doria Medina, conceded defeat.

Morales’ anti-poverty programs and prudent spending of funds from the nationalization of natural gas and oil businesses have earned him wide support in a country long dogged by political instability.

He also won plaudits from Wall Street for running fiscal surpluses and delivering economic growth averaging more than 5 percent a year.

Morales attributed his election victory to “management and work” and said he would stick to the same policies.

“We will continue with the experience that we have had with the business sector,” he told journalists at the government palace in La Paz on Monday. “Private property will be respected, the constitution says so.”

He also said that state companies were key to improving the lives of Bolivians because they allow for more social spending. “To meet (the people’s) demands, you have to guarantee economic growth and to do that you need public companies.”

Exit polls showed that Morales’ Movement towards Socialism party won the vote in eight of Bolivia’s nine regions, including Santa Cruz, which is the country’s most affluent region and traditionally an opposition stronghold.

“Bolivia is progressing. Bolivia is making a splash internationally and economically. We have seen the president take Bolivia to where it deserves to be,” said 50-year-old newspaper vendor Guillermo Mansilla in La Paz on Monday.

Morales’ successful approach is unlikely to change much in a third term, analysts said.

“He seems to have found a winning formula in his second term and he will see how far he can take it in the third,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue think-tank on Monday.

Nonetheless, the socialist leader had been “riding a wave” of high natural gas prices and Shifter said there are questions about how long such conditions will last, as well as Morales’ willingness to develop a more diversified economy.

Doria Medina, who appeared to have won around 25 percent of the vote, conceded defeat on Monday and blamed ex-president Jorge Quiroga for splitting the anti-Morales vote.

Additional reporting by Monica Machicao; Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Kieran Murray

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