Bolivia votes in the midst of the pandemic, with a climate of high tension and without Evo Morales on the ballot

Luis Arce, Carlos Mesa and Luis Fernando Camacho

From Santa Cruz de la Sierra.In the most atypical elections of the 38 years of its democracy, more than 7 million Bolivians attend today to vote in the middle of a pandemic and of a high political tension due to polarization and the crisis dragged by a popular revolt for almost a year, the fall of former president Evo Morales and an eventful transitional government of Jeanine Añez.

To get to this day Bolivians have had to overcome the cancellation of the elections of October 20, 2019, due to allegations of fraud, the formation of a constitutional transition government, the change of date three consecutive times due to the impact of the coronavirus, 12 days of road blockades in August by supporters of Evo Morales’ party, an electoral campaign with outbreaks of violence, confrontation even during closed hours and warnings of a possible upheaval after Sunday’s vote.

Another novelty is related to the number of competitors and the composition of the electoral ballot. For the first time in 18 years, the photograph of Evo Morales will not be on the ballot as a candidate for the Presidency, since he is a political asylee in Argentina, after his resignation from the Government on November 10, 2019, in the midst of a citizen uprising over allegations of electoral fraud.

Although the figures of eight candidates for the Presidency are printed on the ballot, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal confirmed the official qualification of only five candidates and political organizations. The transitional President, Jeanine Añez, of the Juntos alliance, former president Jorge Quiroga, of Libre 21, and María de la Cruz Bayá, of ADN, were left out of the elections, after they and their political forces announced the decline before The elections. Consequently, this will be the first election in which three candidates resigned before the election, but their faces will appear on the ballot that was already printed in advance. If some voters check the box for these former candidates, the votes will be declared invalid.

The big question is if there is a ballot

As happened last year, for the first time in the history of Bolivian democracy, in this election the door can be opened for a ballot. If the winner does not get 50 percent plus one of the votes or if it does not exceed 40 percent and a difference of 10 points with respect to the second best placed in the vote, there will be a second round scheduled for Sunday, November 29.

There are three candidates who compete with a greater chance the first places. Luis Arce (MAS), former minister of economy of the government of Evo Morales, the former president Carlos Mesa (CC), which last year won second place in the elections annulled for fraud, and Luis Fernando Camacho (We believe), the new actor in Bolivian politics, who last year led the civic citizen movement that caused Morales to leave power, after almost 14 years in office.

The other two candidates with fewer possibilities are Chi Hyung Chu (FPV), the Bolivian nationalized South Korean, who finished third in 2019, and Feliciano Mamani (Panbol), a mining union leader.

Luis Arce (REUTERS)
Luis Arce (REUTERS)

The last hours preceding the election have been marked by a strong confrontation between the followers of Carlos Mesa and Luis Fernando Camacho, who are competing for the votes of the voters against the MAS. Evo Morales himself said a few days ago that the division of his electoral rivals could favor a victory for candidate Luis Arce Catacora in the first round of voting., with which he would become President and with which he would make the MAS the first force in the Legislative Assembly, but without the two-thirds it had in past years.

Based on the polls, various analysts consider that in the new Congress there will be three forces with greater representation: the MAS, CC and Creemos. Whoever is elected President of Bolivia in the first round or in the ballot will not be able to achieve governance if he does not execute an agreement with one of the other two forces.

For the majority of analysts, this Sunday’s election is still open, especially because between 20 and 25 percent were undecided and because none of the candidates had a difference of 10 in the projection of valid votes in the polls. points in first place to win the Presidency in the first round. Even in this election the variant of possible greater absenteeism of voters due to the pandemic could influence the result. Another factor that can be key to whether or not a candidate achieves a ten-point advantage is the voting of Bolivians abroad. Residents in other countries are estimated to represent 4 percent of the electoral roll. Of the little more than 300,000 registered abroad, almost half reside in Argentina.

Former President Mesa seek to get to the ballot
Former President Mesa seek to get to the ballot

Most of the analysts, who support polls, consider that the biggest doubt this Sunday is whether or not there will be a ballot, due to the difference that has been shown in the difference between the first and the second.

Until the last hours of the electoral campaign and the ban, pressures continued on social networks for one of the two rival MAS candidates to lower their candidacies or give up their votes based on the unity of the opposition bloc to Evo Morales, in a way that prevent his return to power and country.

Called to avoid violence

While the calls to attend this Sunday to vote with all the biosecurity measures required by the pandemic were accentuated, also The calls to vote in peace and for political actors to abide by the electoral results multiplied.

Another variant and new characteristic of the new Bolivian presidential election is the presence of five international observation missions and of at least four delegates invited by the MAS to observe the elections.

The visit of related organizations and international activists who are sympathetic to Evo Morales’ party increased the political confrontation with some of his adversaries and even produced a diplomatic incident last Friday. Argentine parliamentarians related to the Alberto Fernández government complained that they had been detained at the El Alto airport by immigration officials of the Añez government, which has not been recognized by the president of Argentina until now. Fernández complained about this event, while days before the Bolivian Foreign Ministry protested once more about what they consider a constant “interference” by the Fernández government in the elections and in Bolivian politics.

Camacho, the third in the polls
Camacho, the third in the polls

Argentine deputies opposed to the Fernández government asked Foreign Minister Felipe Solá to answer questions about the legal status of Morales in Buenos Aires and his possible return to Bolivia during or the day after the elections.

In a previous act with his followers, Morales anticipated that if the MAS wins in the first round, the next day it will return to Bolivia through the town of Yacuiba, located on the border with Argentina.

Andrónico Rodríguez, leader of the MAS and candidate to the Legislature for that party, warned that if the MAS does not win in the vote it will be due to fraud, which will force them to retake power in street protests.

The candidate Luis Arce himself said that if Mesa wins him in the first round it will be due to fraud. The CC candidate responded that the MAS seeks to open the umbrella. Other leaders of Morales’s party have stated that they distrust the Electoral Tribunal and will only abide by the results if there is no fraud.

In this tense climate, the Government of Jeanine Añez has slipped that there are preparations of social upheaval prepared by the MAS, especially in the regions where it has its electoral strongholds, which are Chapare, El Alto and the north of Potosí. The institutions in charge of state security announced that they are ready to respond to any outbreak of violence in Bolivia.

The atmosphere of tension has grown, which in the last hours motivated the missions of the UN and the European Union to issue joint statements with the Church in which they ask to vote in peace and respect the electoral results.

Other missions such as the Carter Center and the OAS have expressed their confidence in the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and in the Bolivian process, affected by the crisis that came from last year.

The observation bodies highlighted several adjustments to avoid irregularities such as the renewal of the authorities, vowels, and officials of the Electoral Body, technological changes for the electoral count and the chain of custody of the voting material.

Due to the pandemic, the vote will last one hour this Sunday, it was divided into two groups and schedules for voters and biosecurity has been reinforced in the centers authorized to vote. At the last minute, last night the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of Bolivia decided not to use the quick count method, which will force you to wait for the official count, which could take days. “This is the most atypical election in democratic Bolivia and the one with the greatest tension. I hope there is no violence, ”summarized analyst and historian Paúl Antonio Coca.

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Carlos Mesa, a repeat offender in Bolivian politics fighting for a ballot

Camacho, the leader of the Bolivian rebellion that dethroned Evo Morales

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