Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, is seeking a fourth term in elections on Sunday.
Some people in the South American nation have had enough of Morales. They have created memes that show him fighting forest fires with a child’s water gun. Others put his image on pictures showing actors in the American movie “Ghostbusters.”
Young people have used the memes to laugh at the 59-year-old leader, and what they say is his slow reaction to thousands of forest fires. As the fires burned, Morales appeared in televised images personally battling fires using firemen’s equipment.
The president’s supporters say that showed how much he wants to protect Bolivia's forests. Yet many young people disagree. They say Morales has pushed to develop areas, leading to illegal fires that are used to clear the land.
Young voters make up about a third of Bolivia's voting population. They could decide if Morales gets re-elected.
"If the president would have acted before, we wouldn't be mourning so much loss or the death of so many animals...I'm reconsidering my vote," said 26-year old Rolando Condori. He cooks meals at his own fast food restaurant in the city of El Alto.
Condori says he has voted for Morales since he was 18 years old. But now, he is listening to other candidates to see who can provide jobs and take care of the environment. These are said to be the top issues in the election campaign.
Young Bolivians have been outraged by fires that destroyed an estimated 4 million hectares in the past two months. These fires received little international attention as the world reacted to the fires in Brazil’s Amazon.
Most of the fires have been in dry forests and farmland in the Chiquitania area of Santa Cruz province, although some affected the country's Amazon region.
"Before the fires, Morales had his triumph assured,'' said Marcelo Carpio. He is with a political science school called Leaders for Democracy and Development.
Opponents have criticized a declaration by Morales' administration in July that permitted some controlled fires for agricultural purposes. They say it added to the environmental disaster. The government denies the fires resulted from the declaration. It says Bolivian farmers have cleared land with fires for years.
In Morales' 14 years in office, poverty has dropped in South America's poorest country. The president still has large support, even among the young.
"To me, (his re-election) would be good for our Bolivia," said Aldair Hermoso. He is an 18-year-old who dreams of playing European football professionally. "Evo Morales will be a good president."
But this support has been shrinking following corruption charges and Morales’ decision to seek a fourth term. The constitution limits presidents to two consecutive five-year terms. In a special election, 51 percent of voters rejected a proposal to overturn the term limits. The courts later ruled in favor of Morales.
Opinion surveys have shown that many young voters are undecided. These studies point to a competitive election.
"This is the first election with Mr. Morales…in which the chance of him losing is real," said political observer Franklin Pareja.
"Morales is no longer fashionable," said Clara Huanca, a 21-year-old university student. She said he has failed to provide plans for improving education.
Huanca also said that she became dissatisfied with Morales when he ignored the constitutional ban on serving more than two consecutive terms.
"I voted for Evo," she said."I was influenced by my parents, but now I'm completely against it.”
Many young Bolivians have no memories of a president other than Morales. Some say they are ready for change. But many young people are also unhappy with the opposing candidates. They include former President Carlos Mesa and lawmaker Oscar Ortiz.
The presidential candidates have failed to understand the needs of young people, said Tonny Lopez, a local expert in social networks. After 14 years in power, there is a lot of material out there to use to make fun of Morales, Lopez said.
"It's now in fashion to want to remove Evo (from power), and many don't know why," said Edgar Totora, 19. "I think it's because of what he said himself: `I'll leave if I lose the referendum,' and he hasn't done it. It's like he's laughing in our face."
I'm Susan Shand.
The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted the story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
indigenous – adj. native
meme – n. an interesting picture or video that is spread widely through the Internet
outrage – n. extreme anger
triumph – n. a victory
professionally – adj. of or related to a job or work
consecutive – adj. following one after the other
in favor of - expression in sympathy with
fashionable – adj. currently popular
network – n. an interconnected group of system
in fashion – idiom liked by many people