President Evo Morales declared victory Thursday in Bolivia's elections whose disputed results have triggered riots, a general strike and opposition charges that he is trying to steal the election to secure a fourth straight term. But hours later Morales said he is open to holding a run-off if necessary, as demanded by his critics.
Election officials said their preliminary results showed that with 98.95 percent of ballots counted from Sunday's vote, Morales had 46.51 percent, against 36.92 percent for his closest rival, the centrist Carlos Mesa. A margin of at least 10 points would mean outright victory and no run-off.
"We won in the first round," Morales told a press conference. He called this "good news."
There was no immediate confirmation of a Morales victory from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. But the president said later that if he does not obtain a 10-point margin he will respect this result.
"If we have to go to a second round, we will go," he said.
Mesa said Wednesday he would not recognise results tallied by the tribunal, which he accused of manipulating the count to help the leftist Morales win. The candidate is insisting there be a run-off between him and the president, and called on supporters to keep protesting in the streets of this resource-rich but poor South American country.
Observers from the Organisation of American States have expressed concern over the vote count, which first showed Morales and Mesa in a tight race and headed for a run-off, and then shifted dramatically Monday to give the president a wider lead.