How Bolivia Overcome a Crisis and Made a Fair Election

As election day approached, the candidates were concerned about the possibility of fraud. Voters across Bolivia questioned the robustness of the electoral process. And many were concerned that the outcome, whatever it was, would provoke outrage and violence on the other side.

But in the days after the vote, something unexpected happened.

The election went smoothly, and its results were quickly and widely accepted, an achievement that is celebrated by many in a nation that has resisted threats to its democracy for years.

“Democracy won in Bolivia,” said Fernanda Wanderley, director of the Institute for Socio-Economic Research at the Bolivian Catholic University.

On Sunday, exit polls showed candidate Luis Arce leading the way. His main rival, Carlos Mesa, accepted the results the next day. On Friday, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of Bolivia confirmed that, indeed, Arce would be the next president, which coincided with the polls and the hopes of the voters.

Ultimately, Arce won with 55 percent of the vote, and Mesa got only 29 percent of the vote, a bigger victory than Arce’s advisers had anticipated.

Arce is the candidate chosen by the former president, Evo Morales, an outstanding figure in Bolivian politics. Morales is a socialist who transformed the country by lifting hundreds of thousands out of poverty and prioritizing indigenous and rural communities in a nation that, for centuries, had been ruled by a predominantly white elite.

The results indicate a clear interest of the electorate to continue with the political project of Morales and his party, Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS).

But voters and analysts also say that the election marks a promising moment for a democratic system that had eroded under Morales, who bypassed his own government’s constitutional regulations to run for a third and later a fourth term. . In addition, he was criticized for oppressing the opposition, harassing journalists and putting the judiciary on his side.

Last year, his attempt to run for a fourth term ended in allegations of electoral fraud, and the demand for his resignation by opponents and protesters in the streets. After the police and the armed forces also requested his resignation, he left the country and defined his expulsion as a coup. Sunday’s election was a repeat of last year’s process.

Jeanine Añez, an opponent of Morales who served as interim president, also persecuted her political rivals, stifled dissent, and angered many Bolivians by postponing the new electoral process.

His extremist rhetoric against MAS, which made little distinction between MAS officials and ordinary voters, displeased many Bolivians, Bolivian journalist Raúl Peñaranda explained.

In various interviews, many Bolivians attributed the relative calm after the election and the high number of votes obtained by Arce to a longing for stability.

In the less than 200 years of that country’s history there have been 190 revolutions and coups d’état. Last year included demonstrations that had a death toll, a presidential expulsion, a financial crisis that generated the impoverishment of many and a controversial election that divided the nation.

Morales, who served as president for 14 years, was the longest-serving Bolivian president and ruled at a time when the commodity boom brought a flow of money to the nation.

Arce was his economy minister for much of his terms, and he is often associated with that prosperity and political stability. He also promised to rule for only five years.

All of this seems to have convinced more than half the country to give it a try.

“I think that last year’s crisis did a lot of damage to Bolivian democracy, as part of a cumulative process,” Wanderley explained. “But in the end, Bolivia found a way to overcome that crisis, and was able to hold a legitimate and transparent election in which the winner was chosen by popular vote.”

After Morales’ ouster, Bolivia also made a concerted effort to address mistrust in the electoral system.

Bolivia reformed its electoral tribunal, which had been packed with officials loyal to Morales. It deployed an educational campaign aimed at the electorate and purged the electoral rolls, explained Naledi Lester, an electoral expert who works in La Paz observing the election for the Carter Center, a nonprofit organization that has monitored elections since 1989.

His colleague, José Antonio de Gabriel, who also works in La Paz, said that the court conducted an organized election, and “acted with impartiality and independence and protected political plurality.”

Morales was removed from office last year after critics accused his government of trying to manipulate the election in his favor.

The Organization of American States (OAS), which sent the largest electoral mission to Bolivia last year, harshly criticized the 2019 process by concluding that electoral officials had participated in “intentional manipulation” and “serious irregularities” that they carried out. that it was impossible to verify the results.

The OAS indicated that these irregularities included hidden data servers, manipulated electoral ballots, and forged signatures.

Since then, several reports by academics and policy experts have criticized the statistical analysis of the electoral process carried out by that organization.

But the OAS report shaped the local and global narrative around the election. It has been used by Morales supporters to claim that global forces are plotting against him, and his critics cite it as proof that the MAS rigged the vote.

These disparate views caused people to take to the streets over the course of the past year, sometimes leading to violent clashes.

This year, the OAS sent 40 people to observe the election. On Wednesday, the organization issued a report defining it as “exemplary” and “no fraudulent actions.”


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