Bolivia prepares to hand over power to Morales presidency

Bolivia's caretaker government on Tuesday prepared to hand over power to Evo Morales, the leftist coca-grower who will be the Andean nation's first Indian president, marking a historic turning point in a country traditionally governed by the non-Indian elite. Although less than a third of the votes in Sunday's election had been counted, President Eduardo Rodriguez's administration said it was organizing a transition team in anticipation Morales' inauguration on Jan. 22.

"A transition commission will be set up and there will be a meeting with Evo Morales' team soon," Rodriguez spokesman Julio Pemintel said. With 30 percent of the vote counted, Morales had 48 percent of the vote, while conservative rival Jorge Quiroga had 35 percent, according to the National Electoral Court. Quiroga has conceded defeat.

Three independent vote counts sponsored by Bolivian news media showed Morales at or above the clear majority he would need to win outright. If he falls short, Bolivia's congress would decide the winner, but Tuesday's comments from the Rodriguez administration indicated officials consider the issue settled.

Morales, a 46-year-old Aymara Indian, has vowed not only to halt U.S.-backed coca-eradication programs but to shake up Bolivia's political elite. Aymara and Quechua Indians make up a majority of the nation's population, although people of mixed or European descent have until now governed the country.

Strengthening leftward tide rippling across South America, Morales has said he would turn over "vacant, unproductive" land to poor farmers and expand Indian rights, while increasing state control of Bolivia's vast natural gas reserves.

But in a Monday news conference Morales moved to assure private investors, saying he would respect property rights and that multinational companies would be paid to help in exploration and to develop the industry. The site of his news conference, the offices of the coca growers union where Morales rose to political prominence, showed that the apparent victory did not mellow his stance against U.S. coca-eradication efforts.

"We are betting on an effective fight against narcotrafficking because neither cocaine nor drug trafficking is part of Bolivian culture," Morales said. He has not said how he will stop illegal drug exports, complaining instead that "the fight against drug trafficking has been a pretext for the U.S. government to install military bases ... and these policies will be revised", reports the AP. N.U.

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