TIWANAKU, Bolivia — Bolivian President Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous head of state, marked a record-setting 10 years in office Thursday with an ancient ceremonial rite in the pre-Incan city of Tiahuanaco.
In a dawn ceremony, the leftist leader extended his arms to receive the first rays of the morning sun before breathing in the incense from a large pyre lit to bring good fortune.
The ritual, set to the sounds of Andean music, was held at the archaeological site of Tiahuanaco (or Tiwanaku) in western Bolivia, a collection of stone ruins thought to have been a spiritual and political center from AD 400 to 900.
“With this small but very important act, I would like to take the opportunity to express our gratitude for these 10 years of service to the Bolivian people,” said the president, who faces accusations of seeking to cling to power for up to a decade more.
Morales took office on Jan. 22, 2006, after defying centuries of discrimination against Bolivia’s indigenous communities to win a landslide election victory. He has since presided over a period of robust economic growth and transformative changes for the long-suffering indigenous majority.
A former coca grower who got his start in politics as a union leader, he has deftly managed the resource-rich economy, which has more than tripled in size during his decade in office.
With the opposition riven by infighting, Morales, 56, has won resoundingly in the past three presidential elections: 54 percent of the vote in 2005, 64 percent in 2009 and 61 percent in 2014.
But Morales, who is already the longest-serving president in Bolivian history, is increasingly accused of trying to cling to the presidency for as long as he can.
Three years ago, Bolivia’s Supreme Court cleared the way for him to serve a third term when it ruled that his first term was exempt from a new constitution adopted in 2009 that imposed a limit of one reelection for sitting presidents.
His current term ends in 2020, but now he is pushing for a referendum to amend the constitution and enable him to serve until 2025.
Morales will officially mark the anniversary Friday with a ceremony in Congress, where he will deliver a nationally televised address.