Bolivian President Evo Morales Calls For New Elections Amid Protests

By Meg Anderson

Bolivian police officers greet demonstrators from the roof of a police station in La Paz, Bolivia, on Saturday.

Marcelo Perez Del Carpio/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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Marcelo Perez Del Carpio/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Updated at 12:48 p.m. ET

Amid widespread protests, Bolivian President Evo Morales is calling for new elections, just three weeks after he declared victory in the country’s last presidential election.

“By calling for new national elections, we guarantee that the people will freely, democratically and peacefully, through voting, elect their new authorities,” Morales tweeted, pleading in another tweet for protestors to “ease the tension.”

Morales called for new elections early Sunday, after the Organization of American States released a preliminary audit indicating “serious security flaws” and a “clear manipulation” of a computer system, which the audit says ultimately affected the final count.

“The manipulations to the computer system are of such a magnitude that they should be deeply investigated by the Bolivian government to get to the bottom of and assign responsibilities in this serious case,” the audit said.

The audit isn’t the only factor likely forcing Morales’ hand: Police across the country have now begun to declare themselves in mutiny, joining the throngs of protestors. In several cities, there are reports of officers marching with demonstrators and chanting opposition slogans, according to NPR’s Philip Reeves.

#Bolivia 🇧🇴: police forces in #Cochabamba are in mutiny against the government, refusing to crack down against protesters following election fraud

— Thomas van Linge (@ThomasVLinge) November 8, 2019

Williams Kaliman, commander of the Bolivian armed forces, said Saturday at a press conference that the military would not confront protestors.

“We will never face the people who we serve and we will always ensure peace between our brothers and the development of our country,” Kaliman said.

Luis Fernando Camacho, a Bolivian protest leader, tweeted that he “cried with joy” at the mutiny of police forces, thanking them for “being with the people.”

Bolivia has been in crisis since its Oct. 20 presidential elections, when allegations of electoral fraud sparked unrest. Morales was vying for a fourth presidential term, but early results after the vote seemed to indicate that he had not secured the votes necessary to outright win, and instead would go into a runoff election against former president Carlos Mesa, his closest rival.

But an unexpected gap in the reporting of results — followed by Morales narrowly securing the necessary votes to avoid that runoff election — led critics to accuse Morales of tampering with the results and thrust the country into turmoil. At two state-run media outlets, protestors broke in and forced the stations off the air. In one small town, protestors dragged the mayor through the street, covered her in red paint and cut off her hair. At least three people have died in the clashes.

Even before the current protests, critics have argued that Morales has been pushing legal boundaries to remain in power. In 2016, voters rejected Morales’ attempt to amend the country’s constitution to allow him to run for a fourth term. Morales appealed in court, where judges ruled he could be allowed on the ballot.

Jennifer Cyr, an associate professor at the University of Arizona who studies institutional stability in Latin America, tells NPR that Morales’ willingness to agree to an audit and his call for new elections is a good sign for the future of democracy in Bolivia.

“Evo Morales has centralized power and chipped away at checks and balances since coming to office,” Cyr says via email. “But he is not a dictator. He is not unconstrained. Bolivia is not a Venezuela in the making.”

Cyr says the political rise of Morales, who is the country’s first president of indigenous descent, marked a break from the country’s past.

“Evo’s time in government has been hugely successful in terms of social gains and economic growth. It’s difficult to stand against those kinds of gains,” she says. “Ultimately, I think Bolivians want the elections to be respected – and for them to be free and fair.”

Procedures for the new election will be announced in the next few hours, according to the Bolivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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