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Bolivia tallies its ballots; can it count Army out?

With results trickling in and the final outcome still uncertain, the big surprise in Bolivia's presidential vote was the poor showing of former President Victor Paz Estenssoro.

He had been expected to do well. Indeed, most forecasts suggested he would easily capture first place over another former President, Hernan Siles Zuazo.

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As the vote count went ahead slowly, it was apparent that the left-leaning Mr. Siles Zuazo was emerging as top vote-getter. He was doing better than expected in the cities of La Paz, Potosi, Santa Cruz, and Sucre -- and this suggested that the traditionally pro-Paz Estenssoro rural vote, which is coming in slowly, would not be enough to offset the Siles Zuazo lead. But the latter does not have enough votes -- an absolute majority -- to prevent the election from being thrown into the Bolivian legislature.

Moreover, Mr. Siles Zuazo is anathema to the Bolivian military, which so frequently in the past has seized power to prevent civilians it opposes from assuming the presidency. The military could well move against Mr. Siles Zuazo. It generally was assumed the military found Mr. Paz Estenssoro, a centrist, the more acceptable of the civilians -- although the officers actually preferred a military candidate, Gen. Hugo Banzer Suarez.

With the vote count showing Mr. Siles Zuazo in the lead, the military now must decide its next step.

It could wait until after the legislature meets to select the president, hopeful that the lawmakers, unlikely to go for a military candidate, will name Mr. Paz Estenssoro. Such a scenario, however, appears somewhat remote. The elderly Mr. Paz Estenssoro apparently failed even to capture the second spot in the popular vote count -- a situation that seems to eliminate him from legislative consideration.

The second spot in the tabulation went to General Banzer Suarez, also a former president, to whom the military had thrown its support in recent weeks. When opinion polls suggested he would trail the other candidates, however, it urged interim President Lidia Gueiler Tejada to postpone the vote. She refused and for several days last week, with the Bolivian Second Army Corps in revolt, it appeared the election might well be canceled with yet another military takeover.

That did not take place and the election was held on schedule June 29. It was the second time Bolivians had voted in a year.

In presidential balloting last year, Mr. Paz Estenssoro was easily the winner over Mr. Siles Zuazo. But he failed to win an absolute majority and the election was thrown into the legislature, where a deadlock led to selection of Walter Guevara Arze, a former Bolivian diplomat, as interim president.

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He was subsequently overthrown by Army Col. Alberto Natusch Busch, who held power for 16 days until forced by civilian opposition to give up the reigns to Mrs. Gueiler, a longtime politician and associate of Mr. Paz Estenssoro.

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