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Bolivian President Morales resigns after weeks of protests over disputed election

Bolivian President Evo Morales speaks from the presidential hangar in El Alto, Bolivia.

Bolivian President Evo Morales speaks from the presidential hangar in El Alto, Bolivia.   | Photo Credit: AP

Earlier in the day, the commander of Bolivia’s armed forces had called for President Morales to resign.

Bolivian President Evo Morales said on November 10 he would resign after the military called on him to step down and allies tumbled away amid a fierce backlash over a disputed election that has roiled the South American nation.

Mr. Morales, the country's leader for nearly 14 years, said in televised comments that he would submit his resignation letter to help restore stability, though he aimed barbs at what he called a “civic coup.”

The departure of Bolivia’s first indigenous President, one of a wave of leftists who dominated Latin America’s politics at the start of the century, came when the military abandoned him amid sustained unrest over a disputed October 20 re-election.

Vice President ĭlvaro Garcţa Linera also resigned.

Foes celebrated his departure but also moved swiftly to find a temporary successor. With Mr. Morales’ deputy and many allies in government gone with him, Senate second Vice-President Jeanine Aũez said she was willing to take control.

“If I have the support of those who carried out this movement for freedom and democracy, I will take on the challenge, only to do what’s necessary to call transparent elections,” said Senator Aũez, who is constitutionally next in line to assume the presidency.

The head of Bolivia's armed forces earlier on November 10 said the military had asked Mr. Morales to step down after weeks of protests over the October 20 presidential election, which was won by Mr. Morales.

“We suggest the President of the State renounce his presidential mandate, allowing peace to be restored and the stability maintained for the good of our Bolivia,” said General Williams Kaliman, the commander of Bolivia's armed forces.

“Likewise, we ask the Bolivian people and mobilized sectors to shed attitudes of violence and disorder among brothers so as not to stain our families with blood, pain and mourning.”

Earlier on November 10, Mr. Morales had agreed to hold new elections after a report from the Organization of American States (OAS), which conducted an audit of the October 20 vote, revealed serious irregularities in the election.

The OAS report said the October vote should be annulled after it had found “clear manipulations” of the voting system that called into question Mr. Morales' win, with a lead of just over 10 points over main rival Carlos Mesa.

Looting, fighting and roadblocks convulsed Bolivia on November 11 after Mr. Morales’ resignation created a power vacuum. Overnight, gangs roamed the highland capital and other cities, businesses were attacked and properties were set on fire. Schools and shops were largely closed, while public transport halted, roads were blocked, and rival political groups clashed on the streets.

“I am afraid of what will happen, everything is a mess in the city. There are fights between neighbours,” said Patricia Paredes, a 35-year-old secretary in La Paz.

Mr. Morales, 60, flew out of La Paz and was believed to still be in Bolivia — but his whereabouts were unclear.

Some of Mr. Morales’ leftist allies in Latin America decried the turn of events as a “coup,” including Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Argentine President-elect Alberto Fernandez.

‘Today we won a battle’

The election turmoil threatens to topple Mr. Morales, a survivor of Latin America's leftist “pink tide” two decades ago, and could ripple around the region at a time when left-leaning leaders have returned to power in Mexico and Argentina.

“This is important not only for the well-being of the Bolivian people, but also for the stability of Argentina, Chile, Peru, Paraguay and Brazil,” said Juan Cruz Diaz, managing director of risk advisory Cefeidas Group.

“(Mr. Morales') legacy will be compromised and the region will suffer another impact with consequences well beyond Bolivia.”

Mr. Morales, speaking at an earlier news conference, tried to placate critics by saying he would replace the country's electoral body for the new vote, though his opponents - already angry that he ran in defiance of term limits - were not assuaged.

Luis Fernando Camacho, a civic leader from the eastern city of Santa Cruz who has become a symbol of the opposition, said the OAS report clearly demonstrated election fraud. He reiterated his call for Mr. Morales to resign.

“Today we won a battle,” Camacho told a crowd of cheering supporters in the capital, though he added more time was needed to repair the constitutional order and democracy. “Only when we can be sure that democracy is solid, then will we go back home.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had welcomed the call for a new vote to “ensure free and fair elections.”

“In order to restore credibility to the electoral process, all government officials and officials of any political organizations implicated in the flawed October 20 elections should step aside from the electoral process,” he said in a statement.

Allies fall

As the fall-out from the audit report swept across Bolivia, there were signs that Mr. Morales' support was waning fast.

Several of his allies resigned, including Mining Minister Cesar Navarro and Chamber of Deputies President Victor Borda, who belongs to Mr. Morales' party. They both cited fear for the safety of their families as the reason for stepping down.

Juan Carlos Huarachi, leader of the Bolivian Workers' Center, a powerful pro-government union, said Mr. Morales should stand down if that would help end recent violence.

“If it means resigning to bring peace to the Bolivia people, then Mr. President we should do it,” he said.

 

In recent days police forces were also seen joining anti-government protests, while the military said it would not ”confront the people” over the issue after a weeks-long standoff.

The attorney general's office also announced it had ordered an investigation with the aim of prosecuting the members of the electoral body and others responsible for the irregularities.

When questioned about whether he would be a candidate in the new election, Mr. Morales told a local radio station “candidacies must be secondary; what comes first is to pacify Bolivia,” adding he had a constitutional duty to finish his term.

Mr. Mesa said Mr. Morales and Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera should not preside over the electoral process or be candidates.

“If you have an iota of patriotism, you should step aside,” Mr. Mesa said in a news conference.

Mr. Morales, who came to power in 2006 as Bolivia's first indigenous leader, had defended his election win but said he would adhere to the findings of the OAS audit.

“The manipulations to the computer systems are of such magnitude that they must be deeply investigated by the Bolivian State to get to the bottom of and assign responsibility in this serious case,” the preliminary OAS report said.

“The first round of the elections held on October 20 must be annulled and the electoral process must begin again,” the OAS added in a separate statement.

Voting should take place as soon as conditions are in place to guarantee it being able to go ahead, including a newly composed electoral body, the OAS said.

The OAS added that it was statistically unlikely that Mr. Morales had secured the 10-percentage-point margin of victory needed to win outright.

Local media reported shots were fired at vehicles carrying a group of miners on their way to La Paz from the southern mining region of Potosi earlier on November 10, causing several injuries. The official government human rights body issued a statement condemning the attack.

Asylum offer

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said his country would offer Mr. Morales asylum if he sought it.

Nicaragua’s government also came to Mr. Morales’ defence, issuing a statement that decried the situation as a coup and a display of “fascist practices.”

Bolivia under Mr. Morales had one of the region’s strongest economic growth rates and its poverty rate was cut in half, though his determination to cling to power and seek a fourth term alienated many allies, even among indigenous communities.

General Williams Kaliman, the head of Bolivia’s armed forces, on Sunday said the military had asked Mr. Morales to step down to help restore peace and stability after weeks of protests over the vote.

The Organization of American States exhorted Bolivian lawmakers to meet urgently to resolve the crisis.

At a press conference, Mr. Morales’ election rival Carlos Mesa asked the police and civilian groups to guarantee the arrival of legislators across the political spectrum to the central Plaza Murillo to formalise Mr. Morales’ resignation and push forward new elections.

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 3:34:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/bolivian-president-morales-resigns-after-weeks-of-protests-over-disputed-election/article29940170.ece

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