Morales’ party has claimed victory in Bolivia’s presidential election as results trickled in from the re-run of last year’s annulled ballot that saw the leftist leader resign and flee the country.
More than nine hours after polls closed, barely 6% of all ballot boxes had been counted and they showed Mr Morales’ handpicked successor, Luis Arce, trailing conservative rival Carlos Mesa.
However, with a private quick count of sampled polling stations favouring Mr Arce by a wide margin, even interim president Jeanine Anez – an arch-rival of Mr Morales – recognised that the socialist movement looked set to return to power in what looked to be a major jolt to South America’s beleaguered left.
“I congratulate the winners and I ask them to govern thinking in Bolivia and in our democracy,” Ms Anez said on Twitter.
Bolivians have long been accustomed to quick preliminary results in presidential elections. But after allegations of fraud and days of unrest marred last year’s ballot, newly installed electoral authorities had been appealing for patience, reminding voters that they have up to five days to declare a winner.
While voting was peaceful, the long wait on Sunday night for results fuelled speculation that something was awry.
Adding to the intrigue, the publication of two exit polls was also withheld after private pollsters said they did not trust their own survey results.
Mr Morales broke the tense silence by declaring Mr Arce the winner.
Later, two pollsters said a quick count of official tally sheets at select polling stations showed Mr Arce had garnered more than 50% of the votes, compared to 31% for former president Carlos Mesa, the top finisher of four rival candidates.
“We’ve recovered our democracy,” Mr Morales said in brief remarks from exile in Argentina. “Lucho will be our president.”