By Robert Kozak
Bolivia's socialist President Evo Morales is leading in a new poll, with 52% of those surveyed saying they intend to vote for him in the October general election, enough to secure a first-round victory.
The survey of 2,009 people carried out by pollster Equipos Moris was published Tuesday in newspaper El Deber, and has a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points.
Strong economic growth has helped boost Mr. Morales's popularity. His finance minister, Luis Arce, is promising to continue with the same economic policies if the administration receives another five-year term.
Since first taking office in 2006, Mr. Morales has sharply increased the role of the state in the economy, including nationalizing companies.
"The government's model for development in 2015 to 2020 will be maintained," Mr. Arce told state-owned television on Sunday.
Bolivia's gross domestic product rose an average of 5% since 2006 on strength in the natural gas and minerals sectors. The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean on Monday forecast that Bolivia's economy will expand by 5.5% this year.
"Our base case scenario is whether [Evo Morales] wins with a large majority or with a tiny margin of votes, we are looking at general continuity in policy," said Joydeep Mukherji, manager of the Latin American sovereign team at rating agency, Standard & Poor's.
Standard & Poor's in May raised Bolivia's long-term debt rating to BB, citing greater economic stability and reduced debt loads, but also noting that private-sector investments remained weak as the government has pushed into key sectors of the economy.
A win by Mr. Morales would increase the risk to investors, especially in the oil and gas industry, said Maplecroft Global Risk Analysis.
"The president's commitment to state ownership of natural resources will continue to undermine Bolivia's attractiveness as an investment destination, as will his periodic nationalisations of privately-held assets in order to placate his more radical supporters," the consulting firm said recently.
"The government's insistence that the state must take a leading role in the exploitation of natural resources will also continue to undermine investment prospects in Bolivia's struggling mining industry," it added.
The opposition has been split, with four other candidates running for office.
They include Movement Without Fear led by Juan del Granado; the Democratic Union led by Samuel Doria Medina; the Green Party of Bolivia led by Fernando Vargas, and the Christian Democratic Party with their candidate, Jorge Quiroga, who was president from mid-2001 to mid-2002.
Nicholas Watson, senior vice president for Latin America at consultants Teneo Intelligence, said that Mr. Doria Medina, a politician whose last run for president in 2009 garnered 5.7% of the vote, could emerge as the main challenger, "but is unlikely to cause the president a huge loss of sleep. The election is Morales's to lose."
The latest poll published in El Deber showed that Mr. Doria Medina has 16% of the voting intentions, with the other candidates trailing far behind.
Write to Robert Kozak at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 05, 2014 11:15 ET (15:15 GMT)
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