Understanding the current situation in Bolivia

By Valeria Vargas Sejas, MACRM 2020, former concessional funds economist at IADB

            Today is the 14th consecutive day of strikes in Bolivia regarding the presidential elections on October 20th, 2019. The country is divided, with one group on the streets demanding for new elections and for current President, Evo Morales, to step down, and the other group supporting Morales as the legitimate president. Although pacific in nature, inevitable clashes between the two groups have happened, resulting in two deaths and several injured thus far. The demonstrations take place across the country and arose after the transmission of the election results was halted for 24 hours without an explanation. Official results show an outright victory for Evo Morales and his party Movement for Socialism (MAS for the name in Spanish), in a process that lacks transparency and casts doubt to the legitimacy of the results. 

            Morales first took office in January 2006. Under his administration, the Constitution was changed in 2009, and the presidential term limit increased from one four-year term to two five-year terms, among the items modified. Morales won the 2009 and 2014 elections with 64.08% and 61.36% of the votes, respectively. Since the elections in 2009 were the first under the new Constitution, according to the country’s highest court, the Constitutional Tribunal, Morales was legally allowed to be re-elected in 2014. 

            In February 2016, a referendum took place and Bolivians voted on a constitutional addendum to allow him to be re-elected indefinitely, resulting in a majority of 51.3%, voting against it. Despite these results and the violation of the constitution, in December 2018 Morales took advantage of the majority MAS officials in Cabinet, Congress and Constitutional Tribunal, and passed a law that eliminates presidential term limits, allowing him to legally run for his fourth term in office in 2019, and be re-elected indefinitely. 

            According to the electoral law in Bolivia, to be elected on the first round of votes, the candidate with over 50% of the votes wins, or the candidate with over 40% of the votes and a difference of 10% to the runner up. In the case where no candidate reaches this majority, the two top candidates advance to a second-round runoff election.

            The 2019 elections took place on October 20th, with the final official results of 47.07% in favor of Morales, with his runner up Carlos Mesa gaining 36.51% of the votes. A margin of 0.56% to avoid the second round of votes. The problem with these results is all the evidence brought forward indicating electoral fraud. Given the controversy of these elections to start with, two independent processes were used to count the votes, the first process was transmitted live based on photographs allowing solid predictions of the results on election day. The second process is the traditional physical count. The evening of the election, accounting for 83% of the votes, the results showed 45% of the votes for Morales and 38% for Mesa, indicating the second round of votes. However, after 19:40 on election day, all transmissions of the results were interrupted for 24 four hours without explanation, and when they resumed the results and patterns changed giving Morales the 10% difference needed to avoid a second round. On October 25th, the official results were announced giving Morales an outright victory. 

            Further, evidence has been brought forward of boxes full of pre-marked votes, votes from deceased people, multiple votes from the same person, votes of people with inconsistent IDs, all these illegitimate votes in favor of Morales. The process and evidence cast doubt on the legitimacy of the results and is what drives people to the streets demanding new elections. It is not about defeating Morales per se, it is about democracy and the process in which Bolivians elect their leaders. 

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