Bolivian Elections: No Morales Spells Uncertainty

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By Alexia Rauen and Alexandra Snodgrass

Bolivia will hold presidential elections on October 18, 2020, after numerous delays and an interim unelected presidency after the October 2019 elections. The nation’s former president, Evo Morales, who ruled land-locked Bolivia from 2006 to 2019, will not be running after a dramatic resignation. Instead, the election pits Luis Arce, the candidate of Morales’s party, against the ex-president Carlos Mesa. 

Bolivia had previously limited presidents to two consecutive terms. However, in 2013, Morales was able to run for a third term after it was found that the introduction of a new constitution in 2009 made his first term moot for counting purposes. In 2016, a referendum on whether or not to change the constitution to allow Morales to run again failed to yield results in his favor. This was reversed by Bolivia’s Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal, who ruled that term limits no longer existed for any elected official. Morales announced his candidacy for the 2019 Bolivian presidential elections in May of 2019. Luis Almagro, head of the Organization of American States (OAS), stated that given the tribunal’s ruling, Morales should be allowed to run. The election was held in October of 2019, and Morales needed a 10-point lead in order to prevent a runoff election. When Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal released results with 83% of the vote counted, Morales was in the lead – but not enough to prevent a runoff.  Then, the website went dark, and when it returned, Morales had won by just over 10 points. The OAS released a report on November 10, 2019 that found the election’s “process was contrary to best practices and failed to abide by security standards … Given the irregularities observed, it is impossible to guarantee the integrity of the data and certify the accuracy of the results.” The post-election public outrage led to weeks of protests and Morales’s resignation. 

Resignation of Evo Morales 

Morales believes that he was the “victim of a coup.” He first travelled to Mexico to seek asylum before landing in Argentina. Some believe this to be a political choice, given Argentina’s shared border with Bolivia. However, Argentina’s foreign minister was quoted stating she desired Morales to “commit to not making political statements in Argentina.” Since his exile, charges have been filed against Morales in Bolivia for statutory rape and human trafficking for an alleged relationship with a minor. Morales’s camp seems to believe these charges were a political move by his detractors. He was also charged back in 2019 in Bolivia of sedition and terrorism, however, Argentina stated in December 2019 that they did not plan to extradite. 

Controversy Over OAS Report

Since the OAS’s November 10th report, a number of researchers have released their disagreement with its findings. As mentioned above, the OAS said it had found evidence of fraud in the October 2019 vote count, which encouraged protests around the nation.

An independent study by researchers using data from The New York Times and from Bolivian electoral authorities found evidence that the OAS’s statistical analysis of the election was, in itself, flawed. Francisco Rodríguez, an economist who teaches Latin American studies at Tulane University, stated, “We took a hard look at the OAS’s statistical evidence and found problems with their methods. Once we correct those problems, the OAS’s results go away, leaving no statistical evidence of fraud.” Other studies have also called into question the validity of the OAS results. The Center for Economic and Policy Research produced several papers that highlight the flaws in the OAS’s reporting. 

Washington D.C. Response  

Members of the United States Congress in Washington, D.C. sent a letter to the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging the Trump administration to use its influence at the OAS to push for a “thorough, independent assessment of the OAS’s statements and reports regarding Bolivia’s 2019 elections.”

The letter also argues that the United States Congress provides a majority of the OAS budget, thus the funding should be used to “support organizations that function transparently and that uphold democratic norms rather than undermine them.”

OAS Response

The OAS has responded to these claims of statistical misuse by calling it “a malicious campaign of disinformation.” The OAS states in their press release that, “The evidence collected leaves no room for doubt about the electoral fraud perpetrated. We invite anyone interested to consult the reports to avoid the confusion generated by biased studies.” 

Outlook of October 18 elections

After Morales’ resignation, Senator Jeanne Anez stepped into the presidency. After stating she would not run in the elections, she entered the race, angering numerous Bolivian citizens, some of whom “accuse[d] her of exceeding her mandate — which was primarily to organize new elections.” Her government delayed the elections twice due to COVID-19. Protests over her government’s extended time in power have erupted, and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and the University Network for Human Rights found “’state-sponsored violence, restrictions on free speech, and arbitrary detentions’” rampant under Anez’s government. Anez withdrew from the race in September 2020, making it clear she hoped her exit would prevent Morales’ political party from winning. The candidate for Morales’s party, Luis Arce, was “handpicked” by Morales. Reuters reported on September 16, 2020 that Luis Arce looked poised to win without a runoff (winning by 10+ percentage points), but the election outcome is now unclear with Anez’s exit. Second in the polls is former president Carlos Mesa, and Americas Quarterly predicts a runoff with Mesa’s eventual win now possible. With the level of mistrust after the OAS’s report, a plethora of independent election observers is necessary to ensure election transparency. The European Union, other international agencies, the OAS, and 16 local Bolivian organizations are set to observe the October 18 elections.

Image: Wikimedia