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Easy reelection likely today for Bolivian President Evo Morales

December 6, 2009 | 10:21 am

Bolivian President Evo Morales is expected to breeze to an election day victory today, giving him a second term as leader of the South American country and solidifying his influence over the country's future.

Morales, the country's first indigenous president, remains hugely popular with the poor and was expected to win more than 50% of the vote. His party, Movement Toward Socialism, sought to capture enough support to control Congress.

First elected in December 2005, Morales has increased state control of the country's economy by nationalizing such industries as energy and mining. His programs include subsidies for schoolchildren and elderly citizens.

Although the programs are largely credited with generating economic growth even during tough times, critics say they amount to payment for political support. His push for more state control of business hurts efforts to attract foreign investment and will cause problems for the country in the long term, critics say.

Critics also say the 50-year-old Morales, an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and an admirer of Cuba's former President Fidel Castro, is less interested in democracy than in accumulating power.

Candidates challenging Morales but falling far behind in pre-election polls include Manfred Reyes Villa, a former state governor and military officer, and businessman Samuel Doria Medina.

Morales' supporters appeared to be out in full force early today, according to media reports.

"We'll always back Evo Morales' government because he takes into account the poor," Ramiro Cano, a 40-year-old jeweler, told the Associated Press. "He's been a great help not just for me but for all families in need."

-- Efrain Hernandez Jr.

Photo: President Evo Morales speaks to the press after voting in today's presidential election. Credit: Aizar Raldes / AFP/Getty Images