Violence and Unrest in Bolivia Over Possibly Fraudulent Election

Evelyn Ford, Scarlet Staff

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The political future of Bolivia hangs in the balance as the country scrambles to understand the events of the 2019 presidential election and clashes between political parties intensify. 

Suspicion of electoral fraud in the election has spurred confusion and anger across the country and led to the resignation of the once-beloved president, Evo Morales.

Morales was the first indigenous president of Bolivia since gaining independence from Spain two hundred years ago, and is the longest-serving head of state. Hailing from the coca growing region of central Bolivia, the liberal president Evo Morales represented political, economic, and social gains for indigenous people. 

His rapid fall from power began with his campaign for an unprecedented fourth term. Morales was first elected in 2006 and served as president until his resignation in 2019. In the last years of his presidency, Morales took to authoritarian measures, packing courts and offices with allies. 

In 2016, many Bolivians voted for a legally binding referendum, prohibiting Morales from running for a fourth term. Morales’s administration brought the case to Bolivia’s Constitutional Court, which ruled that the referendum would violate Morales’s human rights. 

Three years later, polls opened for Bolivia’s presidential elections on October 20th with Morales running for his fourth term. His strongest competition was the centrist candidate Carlos Mesa. 

After the polls closed, partial results were released with 84% of the votes being counted. Polls put Morales with 45% of the votes and Mesa with 38%. To avoid a runoff, a 10% point margin is needed between candidates. 

The real trouble began for Morales when updates inexplicably halted for twenty-four hours. The next morning, when election results still had not been updated, outrage and accusations of corruption arose.

Opposition supporters assembled in protest outside of counting centers in La Paz and other cities, Mesa accused Morales and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of fraud, and riots broke out in multiple cities across the country. Mobs torched two electoral offices in Potosi and the capital city of Sucre. 

After a full day of silence, the election authority released results putting Morales distinctly ahead of Mesa with 95% of the vote counted. Mesa, again, reached out to his supporters, claiming fraud. 

The Organization of American States (OAS), released a statement expressing “deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results revealed after the closing of the polls.” 

The next day opposition groups called for a nation-wide general strike until the will of the people and democratic process was respected. Violence and unrest continued to rage in the major cities of Bolivia. 

On October 22nd, the vice president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal resigned, claiming “mismanagement” of the election count. His was the first of several resignations that would take place. 

On October 24, Morales announced that he had won. Mesa stated that he would not recognize the results tallied by the tribunal on account of electoral fraud that helped Morales win. Hours later, final results were released showing Morales with 47.08% of the votes and Mesa with 36.52%. The OAS began an audit of the election results. 

Two weeks after Morales claimed the presidency, police officers and armed forces in several Bolivian cities joined opposition protests and marches. They called for Morales to step down.

On November 10, the OAS announced findings of many irregularities in analysis of the election. 

Following the OAS statement, homes of two ministers and the speaker of congress were attacked. All three resigned. 

That evening, Morales announced his resignation from the presidency and was offered political asylum in Mexico. The streets of Bolivia erupted in short-lived celebration, followed by violence and protest. 

Following Morales’s resignation, Senator Jeanine Añez Chavez assumed the role of President in a speech to the National Assembly. Her declaration was backed by Bolivia’s highest constitutional court. 

From Mexico, Morales urged his supporters not to accept Añez’s assumption of power. His supporters in the legislature announced they will attempt to nullify her presidency in the legislative session.

The events of the 2019 election have created uncertainty for many people in Bolivia, including indigenous groups who fear loss of representation and equality. Now, Morales has announced that if his resignation is accepted, he will not run in the next election “for peace” and “for Bolivia.” Protests and violence between political parties and ethnic groups remain in the streets of Bolivia.