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Bolivia court declares Morales winner in disputed vote

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Bolivia’s President and presidential candidate Evo Morales gestures during a press conference at the Casa Grande del Pueblo (Great House of the People) in La Paz, on October 24, 2019. – Evo Morales said Thursday he was open to holding a second round run-off in Bolivia’s presidential elections, despite claiming outright victory over his rival Carlos Mesa. (Photo by AIZAR RALDES / AFP)

Bolivia’s electoral tribunal concluded its count of general election votes on Friday and confirmed the controversial reelection of President Evo Morales despite opposition accusations of fraud.

Sunday’s election sparked days of riots and protests after a sudden shift in the vote count on Monday extended Morales’s lead over Carlos Mesa, helping him achieve the 10-point margin needed for outright victory.

With all the votes now counted, Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) president Maria Eugenia Choque read out the final results giving Morales 47.08 percent and Mesa 36.5 percent — just enough for the incumbent to avoid a second-round runoff.

“Bolivia’s electoral system is completely transparent,” said Idelfonso Mani, one of the TSE’s magistrates.

Mesa, who’s accused the government of “fraud” has already said he won’t accept the results.

Fresh clashes between rival groups broke out on Friday, while protesters draped in Bolivia’s red, yellow and green flag blocked roads in La Paz with barricades of tires, rope and trash cans as they demanded their “vote be respected.”

The official result means Morales, who turns 60 on Saturday, has won a fourth successive term despite the constitution he promulgated in 2009 limiting presidents to two mandates.

Backed by a collective of centrist and right-wing parties, former president (2003-05) Mesa has called on his supporters to maintain street protests.

“The strike is unlimited. We want a second-round because it’s clear there’s been fraud,” consultant Ruben Lopez, 62, told AFP.

“The OAS and EU saw there was massive cheating.”

On Thursday the European Union, United States, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia called for a second-round runoff to restore trust and confidence in the electoral process.

The Organization of American States (OAS) had already expressed “surprise” and “concern” over Monday’s sudden shift in official tallies, which increased Morales’s lead, and has agreed to look into the results.

“These results should not be considered legitimate until the end of the requested scrutiny process,” said OAS general secretary Luis Almagro, based in Washington.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday he “fully” supported OAS scrutiny, though no date or conditions for such a mission have yet been publicized.

Back to work
Morales, the longest-serving president in Latin America, was back at work on Friday, making public appearances and inaugurating public works.

By midday he had already made two appearances in rural areas, thanking his supporters.

“We respect and salute the urban vote, from outside, but the rural vote guaranteed the process of change and, as such, progress for the Bolivian people,” said Morales.

Already president since 2006, Morales will now remain in the post until 2025.

Left-wing allies Cuba, Venezuela and Mexico sent their congratulations.

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro, on a trip to Azerbaijan, accused Mesa of attempting a “coup d’etat.”

Violent protests have raged all week, and fresh clashes broke out on Thursday between supporters of both sides in Santa Cruz, the economic hub and opposition stronghold.

Offices in the city housing Bolivia’s electoral authority were set on fire, as security forces clashed with demonstrators in La Paz and elsewhere.

Scandal
The TSE has been heavily criticized for its conduct of the court process, including by its own vice president, who resigned.

On Monday, after the release of partial election results showed Morales just ahead of Mesa, mobs torched electoral offices in Sucre and Potosi, while rival supporters clashed in La Paz.

A general strike went into force on Wednesday.

Morales’s very appearance on the ballot was itself a scandal.

In 2016, he tried to overturn term limits but lost a referendum. Yet a year later, the Constitutional Court authorized him to stand.

Both the TSE and Constitutional Court are made up of members appointed by Congress, where Morales’s Movement for Socialism party has a majority.

One-time union leader Morales, his country’s first-ever indigenous president, was hugely popular until his referendum defeat.

He won the 2009 and 2014 elections with more than 60 percent of the vote.

But his popularity has waned amid allegations of corruption and authoritarianism.

Morales points to a decade of economic stability and considerable industrialization as his achievements, while insisting he has brought “dignity” to Bolivia’s indigenous population, the largest in Latin America.


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