When Bolivia’s 2019 general election results were announced on October 20, existing President Evo Morales from the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party came out the clear winner, beating his rival by a significant margin. Huge protests erupted on suspicion that the elections had been rigged. Though Morales eventually stepped down in November due to public pressure, the protests have continued, since many believe that the democratic institutions of the country may be in danger.
The election scandal
Morales, who became the first person from the indigenous community to be selected as the president of Bolivia in 2006, has retained the office of president for nearly 14 years. After people cast their votes in the 2019 election, an unofficial preliminary vote count was held that showed Morales did not have a margin of even 10 percent against his rival. In Bolivia, a margin of greater than 10 percent is required for a presidential candidate to avoid a second runoff election. However, this unofficial vote counting was suspended midday.
The next day, the independent electoral branch of the Bolivian government declared the official results — Morales had gained 46.86 percent of the votes while the closest rival, Carlos Mesa, only had a 36.72 percent vote share. Since Morales had more than a 10 percent margin over Mesa, the second runoff election was canceled and he was declared the president of Bolivia for a fourth term. This made the public, opposition, and several rights organizations suspicious. The fact that Morales was unable to gain a 10 percent margin in the suspended unofficial vote count seemed to suggest that some fraud had taken place. People took to the streets to protest against Morales’ appointment as president.
On November 6, the opposition released a 190-page report highlighting electoral fraud, citing practices like data wiping, additions, and so on. The Organization of American States (OAS) published a report after working with Bolivian authorities and finding that the election results were compromised. On that same day, Morales announced his resignation. One would assume that this would have ended the protests and Bolivia would be back to normal. But that was not to happen.
Protecting democratic institutions
To understand why Bolivians are still protesting, one should first understand the policies Morales implemented during his tenure as the president of Bolivia. Morales by no means can be termed as a dictator since he enacted so many changes that brought about greater inclusion of the public in the democratic process.
When he was first elected, Morales rewrote the constitution, extending social and political rights to groups that had been historically marginalized. Indigenous communities were given land rights and autonomy. He promoted the use of indigenous languages in public schools. The recognition of indigenous languages as official state languages ensured that natives were not denied social services just because they could not speak Spanish. The new constitution increased the power of rural communities when it came to managing their local resources. In 2014, Morales passed legislation that mandated 50 percent of a political party’s member list must be women.
But Morales ended up prioritizing his own power during the latter half of his presidential period. He passed laws that removed the checks and balances in judicial appointments. As people started to realize that Morales was not focused on institutional reform anymore, his popularity started to wane. Morales has been elected as president three times since 2006. A 2-term limit on the presidency was introduced in 2009. As such, Morales should not have been able to run in the elections for a third time (after 2009). However, he went ahead and ran in the 2019 election, only to trigger a mass protest and get removed from office.
The public is now worried that the new people in power might roll back all the changes Morales has made throughout his presidential term, like indigenous rights and so on. Some are afraid that Morales might have been ousted from his post due to a conspiracy and that a military takeover might happen soon. Racial tensions have flared up, with anti-Morales supporters burning indigenous flags. These are the issues that keep the protests going.
Interim President Jeanne Anez, who came into power on November 12, has promised that a new round of elections will soon be held. She also indicated that Morales wouldn’t be allowed to participate in them. “Evo Morales does not qualify to run for a fourth term. It’s because [he did] that we’ve had all this convulsion, and because of this that so many Bolivians have been demonstrating in the streets… They [MAS] should start searching for a candidate,” she said in a statement (The Epoch Times).
U.S. President Donald Trump has announced full support of the Bolivian people. The OAS has passed a resolution to help Bolivia hold fresh elections in line with international standards. Morales is currently in Mexico. If he were to return to Bolivia, he could face trial for fraud.