Coca growers leader widens lead in Bolivian presidential race, poll shows

Socialist Congressman Evo Morales, leader of the nation's coca leaf growers, has widened his lead in the race for the presidency set for Dec. 4, according to an opinion poll published Thursday.

Morales, one of the nation's top indian leaders, garnered 33 percent of the vote in the poll, compared to 27 percent for former conservative President Jorge Quiroga. The poll was carried out for local television networks Unitel and PAT by the polling firm Mori, the AP reports. Millionaire businessman Samuel Doria Medina appears in a distant third place with 14 percent. The pollsters queried 2,600 voters nationwide. The sample has a 1.8 percent margin of error.

In a poll published on Sep. 17, Morales led Quiroga 28 to 22 percent. Morales has vowed that if elected he will stop the U.S.-backed policy of eradication of coca leaf, which is used to make cocaine.

Morales, 45, is the candidate for the Movement toward Socialism Party, and was a key figure in the massive protests that forced the resignation of president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in 2003 and of his successor Carlos Mesa this year.

Quiroga, also 45, is the candidate a center-right coalition called Social Political Power. He ruled briefly from 2001 to 2002 after the death of President Hugo Banzer, in whose administration he served as vice president.

If Morales or another candidate won the election but failed to get a majority of all votes cast, Congress would choose the president from among the top two finishers. For outright victory, a majority of 50 percent of the vote plus one vote is needed.

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