Natural gas-rich Tarija became the fourth Bolivian state to declare autonomy from the government of leftist President Evo Morales when voters backed greater independence in a referendum, according to two private quick counts of votes.
Autonomy backers waved the state’s flag and celebrated in Tarija’s capital after pollsters released results showing the yes vote getting about 80% support. Electoral officials said there would be no final results until Wednesday.
“A new Bolivia must be built on a foundation of autonomy,” Governor Mario Cossio told a crowd of supporters Sunday night.
“Centralism has left a bad legacy – we are the second-poorest country on the continent. Autonomy is the new path.”
The referendum followed similar votes, with similar results, in three other lowland states.
Mr Morales has called the referenda illegal attempts to cripple his government.
Tarija’s vote was carried out with some delays but without major problems.
Supporters of Mr Morales blocked roads to two small towns but failed to disrupt the voting, said Miguel Angel Guzman, president of the state electoral court, which supports the autonomy measure.
Tarija, in the border region with Argentina and Paraguay 400 miles south of the capital, La Paz, is home to 85% of Bolivia’s natural gas reserves – the nation’s main export.
It remains unclear how the new autonomy measures would work. The states have yet to test their self-declared freedoms by withholding gas revenues from Mr Morales’ government.
A possible preview came this week in Santa Cruz, where national police arrested two men with a rifle and telescopic sight, saying they planned to assassinate the president during his visit to the eastern state.
But a local Santa Cruz prosecutor allied with the autonomous state government released the men, saying they were only going hunting.