Exit polls: Bolivians rebuke Morales in ballot

By CARLOS VALDEZ | October 19, 2011 | 4:16 PM EDT

An electoral worker shows that a ballot is free of any marks before turning over the ballot to a voter in El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011. Millions of Bolivians will chose 56 candidates among a field of 114 to fill judicial positions; 28 of which will be judges for the country's top tribunals, including the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Exit polls indicated that most Bolivians taking part in Sunday's election for top judges cast invalid votes in a what would be a stinging rebuke for President Evo Morales.

The election was for 56 judge positions on Bolivia's top four tribunals, including its supreme and constitutional courts.

Opposition leaders had called on voters to cast invalid ballots in protest, arguing the election was only called to strengthen Morales' hold on power since the 114 candidates were chosen by a Congress dominated by the governing MAS movement.

Election results were not expected for five days, but exit polls done for two radio stations and a TV network all indicated the protest vote against Morales had won. The positions will still be filled. Only a majority of valid votes was needed to win.

Prior to the new constitution championed by Morales and approved by voters, the legislature chose judges for the top courts. The new charter calls for popular election of judges.

The opposition accuses Morales of using the judiciary to persecute adversaries. Several opposition leaders are in exile after being accused of sedition.

But the popularity of Morales, who comfortably won re-election in December 2009, has plummeted in the past year over policy decisions that angered many Bolivians.

First, Morales declared just after Christmas that he was ending subsidies on gasoline; he reversed himself after major protests. Then he insisted on a highway through a lowlands indigenous preserve, and drew further public outrage when police last month attacked Indians marching against it.