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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bolivia's Slump Reflected in Elections

La Paz, Bolivia -- Exit polls from Bolivia's presidential election showed on Monday a populist former mayor and rightist former president vying for first place and a surge in support for an Indian leader criticized by the United States for his defense of cocaine farming.

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the decision on a new leader is to be made by Congress no later than Aug. 3. The change of power is due Aug. 6.

Exit polls on Sunday's vote showed former Cochabamba mayor and army Captain Manfred Reyes and former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada vying for first place; each drew about 22 percent of the vote.

Coca farming leader Evo Morales, who wants to legalize the raw material used to make cocaine, appeared to be in third place, which could make him a power broker in Congress.

Several top contenders could be president if they forged alliances among newly elected legislators before Congress meets to elect Bolivia's leader.

But polls showed growing support for Indian movements and populist leaders as a four-year economic slump sparked a backlash in Bolivia, one of the Western Hemisphere's poorest nations.

The country has been a showcase of market reforms and a key ally in Washington's fight against drug trafficking.

In Bolivia, highland Indians outnumber people of mixed European descent, who make up most of the elite, by three to one.

Reyes promises more state spending and doubling the budget for the armed forces. Lozada, 72, is a pro-market, U.S.-educated reformer with an American accent. He opened up this landlocked South American nation of 8 million people to foreign investment in the 1990s.

First official counts were due to trickle out Monday but the final tally might not be known for days.

To the fury of most Bolivians, U.S. Ambassador Manuel Rocha warned Bolivians that voting for Morales could threaten U.S. aid to Bolivia, hugely dependent on foreign financing.

"The U.S. ambassador must be regretting having been so arrogant," Morales said after the vote.

With former leftist guerrilla Felipe Quispe, another Indian leader and presidential contender, winning nearly 5 percent of the vote, radical indigenous movements were set to control a fifth of Congress. At the last election they won almost no seats.

With the election heading to Congress, where a candidate must get two thirds of the votes to become president, Morales, 42, could have a key role choosing Bolivia's next leader or leading congressional opposition to any government.