Mesa conceded the crushing defeat on Monday, saying Arce’s 20-point margin of victory was “very forceful and very clear.”
Exit polls from the Sunday election gave over 52 percent of the votes to Arce and only 31.5 percent to Mesa, despite predictions that there would be a runoff in November. Official results are expected to be released in a few days.
Arce described his victory as a “return to democracy” for the divided Latin American nation, which was plagued in the recent year by a successful US-led effort to topple Morales from power following his fourth re-election in 2019.
“We have recovered democracy and we will regain stability and social peace,” said the 57-year-old president-elect.
Morales was forced to resign on November 10, 2019 and go into exile after the country’s armed forces turned against him amid protests that left 36 people dead and hundreds wounded. The election was then annulled over vote rigging allegations.
The election victory now by Morales’ largely indigenous Movement for Socialism (MAS) Party has focused attention on the return back to Bolivia of the former president from exile in Argentina.
“Sooner or later we are going to return to Bolivia; that is not in debate,” Morales said in a press conference in Buenos Aires. “My great desire is to return to Bolivia and enter my region. It is a matter of time.”
“With Luis Arce as president, Bolivia will move forward, the country will regain its freedom,” he further emphasized.
This triumph “gives back hope to South America. From our small experience we will help unite the region once again,” Morales added. “Today we can tell the world that MAS has fulfilled the promise it made a year ago: We became millions.”
The former president also thanked Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, and Cuba for their solidarity with the Bolivian people over the past year.
“Bolivia was never alone. The governments of Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, and Cuba were a great support in these months of democratic absence in the country. Thanks to them, I am alive today,” Morales said.
He also thanked Pope Francis, who called him personally to congratulate the election victory of his MAS Party.
Arce has been credited as the architect of Bolivia’s economic success under Morales, who became the country’s first indigenous president in 2006. Over the decade since that year, Arce reduced poverty levels and modernized the country’s infrastructure, boosted by demand for Bolivia’s natural resources.
Arce’s victory will bring to an end the year-long interim presidency of rightist Jeanine Anez, who withdrew from the race a month ago amid growing criticism over her handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has left more than 8,400 people dead and 130,000 infected in Bolivia.
Arce’s right-wing opponents had tried to alarm Bolivians that an MAS victory would herald the return of Morales, who faces arrest in Bolivia on terrorism charges after the US-backed interim government accused him of directing anti-government protests from exile, as well as allegations such as “rape and trafficking.”
Morales, however, dismissed the accusations on Monday, insisting that they were “part of a dirty war” being waged against him.
Landlocked Bolivia, which remains among the poorest countries in Latin America despite its rich natural resources, is experiencing its worst economic crisis in 40 years, with its GDP expected to contract by 6.2 percent in 2020.