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Bolivia's Morales likely to face rival Mesa in presidential run-off

Bolivian President Evo Morales looks set to face a widely expected run-off vote against former President Carlos Mesa, despite declaring his confidence that rural votes will help him avoid a second round.

With nearly 90% of votes counted as of 8:50 p.m. local time on Oct. 21, Morales held 42.3% of the votes while Mesa had 42.5%, according to preliminary results posted by Bolivia's Supreme Election Tribunal. Morales' share of the votes has neither reached the 50% majority threshold nor the 10-point lead needed to avoid a run-off vote Dec. 15.

A reported interruption in the vote count sparked concerns that the election results may be manipulated to favor Morales, with the Organization of American States, an official election observer, asking Bolivian election authorities to explain the disruption.

Morales is the longest ruling leader in Latin America, serving since 2006 as the first president of Bolivia to come from the country's indigenous minorities. He oversaw more than a decade of economic stability and growth in the region's poorest country, fueled by high commodity prices for its natural gas and other resources.

Growth has since slowed due to lower gas prices in the world market, while public debt could reach almost 60% of GDP in 2019.

Fitch Ratings revised Bolivia's outlook to negative from stable in June, reflecting increasing macroeconomic vulnerability caused by rapidly eroding external and fiscal cushions.