Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, cast his vote in the judicial elections. Around 45% voters spoiled their ballots, according to a preliminary count. Photograph: AP
Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, appears to have suffered his first electoral defeat since taking power in 2005, amid growing protests against the construction of a road through indigenous lands in the Amazon.
An estimated 5.2 million voters were expected at the polls to elect 28 national judges and 28 other members of the judiciary. But according to one preliminary count, around 45% of voters spoiled their ballots while around 20% abstained.
The high proportion of spoilt ballots was widely interpreted as a rebuke to Morales over his stance on a 185-mile road that is set to be built through indigenous lands. The poll, by pollsters Ipsos Apoyo Opinión y Mercado, was based on around 90% of votes.
In the runup to the elections, analysts had described the vote as a referendum on the presidency of Bolivia's first indigenous president who came to power promising to fight for the country's dispossessed. Morales was re-elected by a landslide in 2009. He hopes to stand for a third term in 2014.
With many of the judicial candidates female or indigenous, Morales had described Sunday's election as another step towards the "re-foundation" of one of South America's most unequal societies.
But his popularity has been hit by discontent over the construction of the $420m highway and anger over plans, which were eventually shelved, to scrap petrol subsidies earlier this year.
Bolivia's opposition urged voters to boycott the judicial elections as a signal of unhappiness with the president.
Speaking at a press conference on Sunday night, Morales said he was very pleased with the turnout and blamed the high number of spoilt ballots on a lack of information.
More than 1,000 protesters are still marching towards La Paz, the Bolivia's administrative capital, to voice their anger at plans for the Amazon road and are expected to arrive over the coming days.