Departure of Evo Morales Leads to Political Uncertainty in Bolivia

President Evo Morales of Bolivia
Image: Kremlin.ru [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Bolivia is one of the land-locked countries located in western-central South American region which is going through a phase of political uncertainty. Problem started when outgoing president Evo Morales from Movement for Socialism party has declared winner in October 20 presidential election. However, election results came under scrutiny from different independent agencies and opposition parties. Eventually Morales resigned which ignited a wave of violent protest and clashes between government forces and protesters which resulted in the loss of property, vandalism and deaths.  

Bolivia is a unitary republic with a representative government. Country’s parliament is called Pluri-national Legislative Assembly which is having two houses: House of Representatives consists of 130 members directly elected for 5 years and Senate which consists of 36 members directly elected for 5 years. Under the political system in Bolivia, president is both the Head of State and Head of Government. The country has a long history of tension over the use and exploitation of natural resources between the government and the indigenous people. Bolivia is a mineral rich country which is the home of second-largest natural gas reserve in South America. The indigenous group living in the country opposes any type of foreign intervention or exploitation of its natural resources which they believe is their own property. 

Evo Morales, former coca farmer, first contested the election for the top post in 2002 by promising that he will work for the well-being of Indigenous people who constitute around two third of the Bolivia’s total population which is approximately 11 million but failed in his attempt to become the president. However, in December, 2005 he succeeded in his second attempt and become the first indigenous President of Bolivia after a wave of popular protest and sophisticated grassroots mobilization. Mr. Morales is ethnically an Aymara (one of the Bolivias main ethnic group). The country is traditionally ruled by the white minority of European decent. The indigenous people who are the majority were treated as second-class citizens until Evo Morales came to power. After winning the election he has taken a number of steps, rewriting the constitution was one of them which largely remains controversial. The new constitution officially declared Bolivia as “plurinational” and secular in order to reflect the multi-ethnic nature of the country. 

After coming to power Morales had started working on economic development and equitable wealth distribution. His administration invested heavily in public work projects and other programmes for the welfare of the poor and the indigenous people of Bolivia.  According to the Inter-American Development Bank the level of extreme poverty in Bolivia has seen a sharp decline from 38% in 2006 to 15% in 2018, whereas poverty has fallen from 60% to 34%. According to the data released by the Finance Ministry, during the period of 2006 to 2018, the GDP per capita has increased from $1000 to over $ 3,600. The basis of his economic model was to renationalise resources and increase the tax revenue which allows Bolivia to increase its large scale public investment and to boost its foreign reserves. Millions of people from all sections of the society have benefited due to such reformist policies. 

The recent crisis started when a constitutional court scraped presidential term limits. The members of the Bolivia’s constitutional court are nominated by the government-controlled assembly which allows Evo Morales to run for the fourth consecutive term in 2019. Election results indicated that Morales had 10 percent lead over his nearest rival candidate but  election observers alleged large scale misuse of public machineries which led to weeks of unrest across Bolivia. Organization of American States (OAS) claimed that the election was rigged overwhelmingly in favour of Morales and described several violations, including the use of a hidden computer software designed to tilt the vote toward Morales. Under pressure from protesters, civil rights groups, security forces and allies, Mr. Morales announced his resignation on November 10. After a long televised statement Morales put forward his resignation which brought an end to an incredible era in Bolivia’s political history. Morales fled to Mexico in early November shortly after the OAS findings in which it says “deliberate actions to manipulate the result of the election” that make it “impossible to validate”.

A number of political experts have claimed that resignation of Morales come after a statement made by Bolivia’s then armed forces general ‘Williams Kaliman’ who is known in Bolivia’s military circle as a strong supporter of Evo Morales. He suggested Evo Morales to step down in his televised address in November. Surprisingly, Williams Kaliman has been relieved from his duty after the installation of the new interim government. Most of the top raked military officials has also been replaced which indicates Bolivian military has played very minimal role in Evo Morales resignation. 

Shortly after the resignation of Morales, it was all set for Bolivia’s vice president Álvaro García Linera, to take over the power. But García Linera left the country on the same plane as Mr. Morales to seek asylum in Mexico. Later Jeanine Anez from the Democratic Unity Party (DUP) showed her willingness to act as interim president “to put an end to the vandalism and the deaths”. In a special Senate session she took over the office of the president amid loud applauds from the members of the Democratic Unity Party which was boycotted by the supporters of Morales. According to the country’s constitutional court, after the resignation of any president, his deputy and the presidents of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies can assume the role of the president. She was next in the line to assume the office of the president without having any congressional approval. According to the constitution of Bolivia the interim president has to call for fresh election within three months. Country’s Constitutional Tribunal legitimized her presidency, stating: “Given that the inheritance of power occurs as a result of a request for resignation … no legislative act or decision of Congress is required.” After coming to power she approved legislation which annuls the October 20 disputed election, limits presidents to two terms preventing Evo Morales from running again and appointed a new board that will set a date for a fresh general election. The interim leader has promised that she is committed to fulfil the aspirations of the people and assured that by 22nd of January 2020 Bolivia will have a newly elected president.

Pro-Morales supporters took to the street all across the country against the resignation and the self exile of their leader. Most of the indigenous Bolivians fear a renewed racism after Morales’ departure and claim that, attitudes towards indigenous have begun to change after his resignation. 

Since the October 20 elections, violent clashes between security forces and the protesters across Bolivia have paralyzed civil life. Andean region of Bolivia which have the largest concentration of coca-farmers are severely affected. Both the supporters of Morales and opposition parties have taken to the streets, and armed with homemade bazookas, handguns and grenades. They have been barricading roads and skirmishing with security forces. Blockade of roads, shortage of food supply across Bolivia since 20th November has been prevalent.

Increasing violence and death toll of the civilians and the protesters forced international community to intervene. United Nations has requested the interim president and supporters of Morales to begin talks on resolving the crisis. The UN officials confirmed that the proposed negotiations would involve representatives from interim government as well as legislators from the party of Evo Morales. Amid the atmosphere of deep mistrust and polarisation, violence and protests are likely to continue. The future of Bolivia will be dependent on whether polls are conducted freely and fairly in which all the conflicting parties can get an opportunity to participate under an international supervision.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Geopolitics.