La Paz (AFP) - Bolivian President Evo Morales promised Monday to respect the official result of a referendum on whether he can run for a fourth term, as early data indicated he risked losing.
"We are going to respect the result, whether it be a No or a Yes. We always have respected it. That is democracy," he told a news conference.
"We are going to wait patiently for the final whistle from the electoral tribunal. We are optimistic," added Morales, a keen football fan.
Voters on Sunday had their say on a constitutional amendment that could let the leftist president make a bid to extend his total time in office to 19 years.
First elected in 2006, Morales -- Bolivia's first indigenous head of state -- wants to run for another five-year term when his current one ends in 2020, to continue a socialist program that has improved the fortunes of poor indigenous groups.
Exit polls published by private media indicated Morales narrowly lost the vote while partial official results showed he has lot of catching up to do to close the gap on the 'No' votes.
Data cited by ATB television said the "No" vote had 52.3 percent to 47.7 percent for "Yes." Unitel television gave the "No" vote 51 percent to 49 percent.
Partial official results with nearly 30 percent of votes counted on Monday morning showed 63 percent for No and 37 percent for Yes.
Vice President Alvaro Garcia said the early official count was based on returns in urban areas. He said the Yes vote could increase as results trickle in from rural areas where Morales has strong support.
He said Morales could also get a boost from hundreds of thousands of ballots cast by Bolivians living abroad.