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Morales resignation in Bolivia: the triumph of democracy or a coup d’etat?

Iuliia Vashchenko  Ph.D. en Ciencias Políticas, La Paz, Bolivia
Iuliia Vashchenko,
PhD in Political Science,
La Paz, Bolivia

On November 10, around 5:00 pm Bolivian time, Evo Morales issued an appeal, through which he resigned amid allegations of falsification of the results of the presidential elections. Mass protests caused dissatisfaction with the results of the October 20 elections led to the resignation. Morales called the events “civilian coup d’etat” and said that he was resigning for the sake of stability in the country. What is happening in Bolivia today? Why did Morales decide to leave the post of head of state ahead of schedule?

On October 20, the presidential and parliamentary elections were held in Bolivia. After checking 100% of the ballots, the country’s Supreme Electoral Court published data according to which the current President Evo Morales (Spanish – Juan Evo Morales Ayma) gained 47.08% of the vote, and his main rival Carlos Mesa (Spanish – Carlos Diego Mesa Gisbert ) took second place – with 36.51%. According to the Political Constitution of Bolivia, a 10% margin guaranteed the victory of Morales in the first round.

Opponents of Morales suspected the government of trying to influence the outcome of the vote, after the electoral commission suspended the vote count for a while, when preliminary results were given to the current president by 45% and his rival by 38%. Protests broke out in the country, dissatisfied with the decision of the electoral commission.

For the first time in 14 years of Morales mandate, none of political experts could accurately predict the outcome of the elections. The opposition accused him of corruption, recent large-scale fires in the Amazon region, a slowdown in the country’s economy, and authoritarian manners. Supporters of the popular leader, who comes from a simple family of Indian origin, praise him for his cautious economic policy in the favorable years of high commodity prices and thank him for the almost complete eradication of extreme poverty, and opponents charge the decline of democracy.

The participation of Morales in the elections is a cause for discontent of the population, because in the 2016 referendum by a majority vote (51.3%), it was decided not to agree with the amendments that would allow the president to be re-elected for a fourth term. Then the Bolivians voted in favor of the Constitution, which the president himself proposed during his first term in 2009. Evo Morales at first accepted the defeat and promised to observe the results of the referendum, but later changed his opinion, and Morales was allowed to be re-elected by the decision of the Bolivian Constitutional Court in 2018.

After results of the elections were announced, according to which Evo Morales won the most votes, the opposition mobilized their movement, first putting forward a demand for a second round of voting, which was to be held on December 15. In turn, the official government did not agree to grant such a request, recognizing Morales as the winner of the presidential elections. The demonstrations gradually began to grow into riots, in connection with which on October 23, Morales introduced a state of emergency in the country, accusing the opposition of attempting a coup d’etat. Every day the degree of social tension grew, and supporters of Carlos Mesa have already moved away from the rhetoric of the second round of voting towards such radical slogans as the immediate resignation of the current head of state.

Under the pressure of the opposition, on October 25, the President of the Bolivian High Electoral Court, María Eugenia Choque Quispe, stated that this collegial body was ready to undergo any audit of the work at the national or international level in the general elections of October 20. After that, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Diego Pary Rodríguez invited the international observers of the Organization of American States (OAS) to check the results of the vote.

Against the backdrop of mass strikes and “political turbulence”, a radical movement began to gain momentum in the country, which rapidly spread throughout Bolivia from the eastern department of Santa Cruz under the auspices of civil resistance. Luis Fernando Camacho became the leader of the Civil Committee, who “with the Bible in his hands” began to call for radical measures: the anticipatory resignation of Morales and the entire official government, as well as the adoption of cardinal decisions.

On November 10, at around 7 a.m., the OAS preliminary report was announced, which noted the presence of some violations in the conduct of the elections, and the official government was proposed to re-elect the members of the Supreme Electoral Court and set a date for the new elections. In response to a preliminary report on the work done, Evo Morales spoke on Bolivian television, agreeing with the decision of an albeit unfinished check of the OAS. The next few hours, events developed rapidly. After morning announcement of Morales, one after another the resignation of the Cabinet of Ministers and members of the Parliament “poured”. In their statements, they referred to excessive pressure and threats from the opposition.

After the statement of Evo Morales on his agreement with the OAS preliminary verdict, the demonstrators began to demand his immediate resignation from the presidency, which he did already at 17.00 after the army commander and the head of the national police demanded the same. Morales called the events a “civilian coup d’etat”, and also said that he was leaving for the sake of stability in the country.

After the televised statement of Evo Morales, opposition supporters “poured” flags into the streets, shouting the slogans “We succeeded!” and “Free Bolivia”. However, after several hours, the euphoria of the demonstrators was replaced by anxiety and concern of citizens. Supporters of Evo Morales, who also make up a significant part of the population, decided to defend their candidate and took to the streets. In some departments, especially in La Paz, numerous facts of vandalism were recorded: city buses were burned, real estate of some opposition leaders, a number of shops were destroyed.

After the resignation of the President Evo Morales, the Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, the Senate Head Adriana Salvatierra (Spanish – Adriana Salvatierra Arriaza), the Senate First Vice-Speaker, as well as the President of the Chamber of Deputies Victor Borda (Spanish – Víctor Ezequiel Borda Belzu), according to the Constitution, the second vice-speaker of the Upper House of the Legislative Assembly of the country should be the first in the list of candidates for the position of acting president of Bolivia. Thus, according to the Constitution, the representative of the opposition, Jeanine Añez Chávez, who immediately declared that she was ready to officially assume responsibility in accordance with the succession order, was to take the post of the acting head of state. She noted that her first task would be to achieve a quorum after a series of resignations of the first persons of the state, and then call new elections.

On the night of November 13, Janine Añez took over the powers of the country’s president. This happened in the absence of a quorum: deputies representing the “Movement to Socialism” (Spanish – Movimiento al Socialismo) party refused to take part in an extraordinary meeting of the parliament.

Did a coup d’etat take place in Bolivia or the advocates of democracy achieve their goal? If not Evo, then who? When will the riots and acts of vandalism in the country stop? – these are just some of the main issues that today cause social convulsions in Bolivia. To date, the opposition is fragmented, a single candidate from the opposition, able to unite everyone, has not yet been found. How Bolivia will cope with such a degree of political crisis will already show the first results of the work of the Plurinational Legislative Assembly.

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