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Protests, uncertainty over possible Morales victory in Bolivia

Anti-government protesters march against early presidential election results in La Paz, Bolivia, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. International election monitors expressed concern over Bolivia's presidential election process Tuesday after an oddly delayed official quick count showed President Evo Morales near an outright first-round victory — even as a more formal tally tended to show him heading for a risky runoff. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — International election monitors expressed concern over Bolivia’s presidential election process Tuesday after an oddly delayed official quick count showed President Evo Morales near an outright first-round victory — even as a more formal tally tended to show him heading for a risky runoff.

The European Union and Organization of American States both expressed alarm after Morales suddenly shot upward in the quick count Monday following a day-long pause in results.

Morales’ opponents burned election offices and ballots in several cities and called for a strike today, accusing the leftist leader of trying to avoid a December runoff in which he would confront a united opposition.

Michael G. Kozak, acting assistant secretary at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, took to Twitter to accuse the electoral tribunal of attempting “to subvert Bolivia’s democracy by delaying the vote count.”

But a more formal preliminary official account showed Morales well short of the votes needed to win outright.

Tensions rose when officials abruptly stopped releasing results from the official quick count of votes hours after the polls closed Sunday. The last numbers released before Monday night had showed Morales topping the eight other candidates, but also falling several percentage points short of the percentage needed to avoid the first runoff in his nearly 14 years in power.

Yet, the president claimed an outright victory late Sunday, telling supporters that the votes still to be counted — largely from rural areas where he is most popular — would be enough to give him an outright victory. “The people again imposed their will,” he said.

Twenty-four hours later, the body suddenly released an updated figure, with 95% of votes counted, showing Morales just 0.7 percentage point short of the 10-percentage point advantage needed to avoid a runoff.

That set off an uproar among the opposition and expressions of concern by international monitors.

“The unexpected interruption of the electronic vote counting after the first round of the general elections in Bolivia has sparked serious concerns that need to be fully and swiftly addressed,” the European Union said.

But a more formal official count running simultaneously, if more slowly, showed a closer race: With just under 96% of polling places counted in that process as of late Tuesday, Morales led by 8.45 percentage points.