Bolivia is in a volatile era of political uncertainty as president Evo Morales, facing weeks of massive protests, resigned after nearly 14 years in power and fled the country with Mexico’s help. To opposition parties and the Bolivians who celebrated in the streets Sunday night, his exit is a triumph against alleged electoral fraud; but Mr. Morales, his supporters and allies in other Latin American nations have denounced it as a disguised coup brought about under military pressure.
Either way, Bolivia is headed for new elections, but no one is sure when. And in the meantime, seemingly every person constitutionally in line for Mr. Morales’s job has also quit, creating a power vacuum in the Andean nation. Here’s what you need to know about how we got to this point and what could happen next.
Who’s in charge of Bolivia right now?
Senator Jeanine Añez has declared herself to be interim president until new elections are held, but ousted president Evo Morales’s party boycotted the vote in the Senate on whether she should be in charge. Ms. Añez, a right-wing opposition politician who had been the Senate’s second vice-president, wasn’t sworn as president in by anyone, but simply appeared on a balcony of the old presidential palace wearing the sash of office.
It took a dramatic collapse in the line of succession for Ms. Añez to be anyone’s choice for the top job. Bolivia’s constitution lays out three people who can succeed a president – the vice-president, Senate president and head of the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies – but all of them were Morales allies who either quit along with him or had already quit before that.
On Oct. 20, Mr. Morales had just been re-elected to an unprecedented fourth term. But under pressure from opposition leaders, citizens and an international election observer who said that vote was fraudulent, things escalated this past weekend: The military chief called for Mr. Morales to quit, and on Sunday night, he did. A day later, he asked for and received asylum in Mexico before being flown out of the country on a Mexican government plane.
Though there has been widespread unrest since Mr. Morales’s exit, there were no immediate signs that the military itself was manoeuvring for power. But “the power vacuum opens up space for the military to potentially step in,” Jennifer Cyr, associate professor of political science and Latin American studies at the University of Arizona, told The Associated Press.
Morales’s rise and fall: The backstory
2006: Mr. Morales, a former head of a coca growers’ union often known just as “Evo,” came to power as Bolivia’s first indigenous leader with promises to redistribute the Andean country’s natural gas and mineral wealth to lift millions out of poverty. Mr. Morales guided the landlocked nation, the poorest in the region, to steady economic growth and oversaw a period of relative stability.
2016: Talk to people around the country and many refer angrily to “21F,” a reference to the date Feb. 21, 2016, when Bolivians voted in a national referendum against Mr. Morales being allowed to run for another term. Despite that result, in 2017 Mr. Morales went to the country’s top court to get term limits overturned. The court, packed with allies, ruled that term limits were a violation of his “human rights,” allowing him to pursue a fourth straight term.
October 2019: On Oct. 20, Mr. Morales came up for re-election again, but questions were raised when an official fast count by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal abruptly stopped in the evening after the vote, with close to 84 per cent of the count complete. It showed Mr. Morales and runner-up Carlos Mesa heading to a second round. After a near 24-hour pause to the count, the data was once more updated the following evening, this time showing Mr. Morales with a 10-point-plus lead. Suspicions of fraud, and Mr. Morales’s declaration of victory before the final tally had been counted, ignited weeks of protests against Mr. Morales and his allies.
November 2019: Over weeks, the anti-government protesters got increasingly violent: Police officers mutinied, demonstrators fought with dynamite and slingshots and, in one city, anti-government forces abducted a Morales-allied mayor, cut her hair off and doused her with paint. The Organization of American States sent an election-monitoring delegation to investigate the claims of fraud, and their Nov. 10 preliminary report found a “heap of observed irregularities” that they said made a new vote necessary. Mr. Morales agreed to a new election, but soon after the head of the military, General Williams Kaliman, went on national television calling on Mr. Morales to resign, but appealing to Bolivians to refrain from violence. Just over an hour later, Mr. Morales announced his resignation, though to many his supporters the timing of that announcement after Gen. Kaliman’s looked like acquiescence to a coup.
United States: The U.S. State Department says American officials were monitoring events in Bolivia. In a statement the night of Mr. Morales’s resignation, the department said: “We urge the OAS to send a mission to Bolivia to oversee the new electoral process and to ensure that the new Electoral Tribunal is truly independent and reflects a broad swath of Bolivian society. The Bolivian people deserve free and fair elections.”
Mexico: Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard criticized the Bolivian military for getting involved in events that preceded Mr. Morales’s resignation, and on Twitter he characterized it as a coup: “Mexico will maintain its position of respect for democracy and institutions. Coup no.” Also via Twitter, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he recognizes the “responsible attitude of the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, who preferred to resign rather than expose his people to violence.”
Venezuela: President Nicolas Maduro, a long-time ally of Mr. Morales who has faced his own chaotic protest movement calling for his exit, said in a nationally broadcast statement via telephone that Mr. Morales has fallen victim to the same U.S.-backed plot that seeks to topple him. Venezuela’s socialist party leaders are calling on Venezuelans to join in a march on Nov. 16 to show solidarity with Mr. Morales. In Mr. Maduro’s words: “Let’s go to the street to defend the people’s right to democracy, freedom and socialism.”
United Nations: Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is deeply concerned about the situation in Bolivia, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a Spanish-language statement, adding that Mr. Guterres “urges all relevant parties to refrain from violence, reduce tensions and exercise maximum restraint.”
What happens now?
Mr. Morales has agreed to hold the new vote and to replace members of the criticized electoral tribunal, though has not given a specific timeline for doing so. Opposition supporters are pushing for as early a date as possible – potentially in the middle of December – to avoid slipping past the Jan. 22 date when Mr. Morales’s current mandate would have come to an end.
Mr. Morales’s rival, Mr. Mesa, said on Sunday that Morales should not be a candidate in the new vote. Mr. Morales on Sunday said the new elections should involve “new political actors,” but he did not elaborate on whether he would again be a candidate.
Associated Press and Reuters, with a report from Globe staff
Compiled by Globe staff
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