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Evo Morales Set to Become Longest-Serving Leader in Bolivian History

Evo Morales looks to be on track to become the longest-serving leader in Bolivian history with 90 percent of the vote reported.

Supporters of Bolivian President Evo Morales gathered outside the presidential offices late Sunday night waving flags and cheering their candidate's victory based on exit poll counts. Days later with 90 percent of the vote reported, Morales, who first assumed the presidency in 2006 and is the country's first indigenous president, is the clear winner with roughly 60 percent of the vote. He is now on track to become the longest-serving leader in Bolivian history.

"This is the only president who can be trusted, and who has carried through on his promises," says bricklayer José Conde, as celebratory fireworks crackled overhead. For Conde, projects like the country's first satellite, programs that transfer small amounts of cash to students, mothers of young children and the elderly, and improved roads are signs that this government meets its commitments to the people. "No other government has worked so hard for Bolivia," he says.

Of the four challengers, results show businessman and former presidential candidate Samuel Doria Medina at 25 percent, former President Jorge Quiroga at roughly 9 percent, former mayor of the city of La Paz Juan Del Granado at 3 percent, and indigenous leader Fernando Vargas at 3 percent of the vote.

According to Bolivia's 2009 constitution a president can hold office for just two terms, but Morales' party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), successfully argued that because he was first elected under the country's former constitution this is in fact only Morales' second term. It's a move rejected by some voters, who feel the Morales government is trying to solidify a long-term hold on power, but election results show support from the majority.

Bolivia's long history of great mineral and gas wealth that did little to benefit the country's impoverished population is a powerful part of the nation's consciousness. In 2006 President Morales carried through on a campaign promise that the country's vast resource wealth would now benefit its people when he nationalized Bolivia's oil and gas reserves, leading to significant increases in government revenue. Under the Morales administration Bolivia has seen strong economic growth, significant reductions in poverty, and a minimum wage that rose from roughly 64 dollars in 2005 to 208 dollars in 2015.

"In comparison with other governments, this one has really made the Bolivian economy flourish," says La Paz resident and teacher Rosa Ana Estrada. "He [Morales] is from the people, from a humble place...and because of that he helps the people and understands."

But it hasn't been entirely smooth sailing for Morales. His government proposed two initiatives that met with significant dissent: mass protests erupted in 2010 over a plan to end fuel subsidies, which were later reinstated, and in 2011 protests by indigenous groups opposed to a government-backed road through the National Park and Indigenous Territory Isiboro Sécure (TIPNIS) became national news. Bolivia's constitution demands prior consultation with indigenous groups on projects that affect their land, but in this case the government carried out no such consultation. The road project was later put on hold, but not before lasting divisions came between the government and some former indigenous supporters and environmentalists who felt the government betrayed them in favor of development projects.

RELATED: Tensions Between Bolivian Government and Indigenous Groups Deepen

Fernando Vargas, former TIPNIS march leader and candidate for president, says that the government has failed to carry through on promises to respect indigenous and protected lands. "There is no consistency between discourse and practice," he says.

Despite those challenges, the MAS unites many groups including powerful labor unions and peasant organizations, and has gained considerable support in former opposition strongholds in the country's eastern lowlands. Now, as he prepares to enter his tenth year as Bolivia's leader, the country waits to see what more this unprecedented presidency will bring to the country.