Bolivian president Evo Morales agreed on Sunday to hold a new presidential election at the recommendation of the Organization of American States (OAS), but opposition figures called on him to give up his candidacy and resign.
The OAS, which conducted an audit of the disputed October 20th election, issued a report earlier on Sunday that found serious irregularities in the vote won by the leftist leader.
Mr Morales’ victory last month sparked widespread protests around the country.
The OAS report said the October vote should be annulled after it had found "clear manipulations" of the voting system that meant it could not verify Mr Morales' victory, a lead of just over 10 points over his rival Carlos Mesa.
Mr Morales, speaking at a press conference in La Paz, also said he would replace the country's electoral body. The department has come under heavy criticism after an unexplained halt to the vote count sparked widespread allegations of fraud and prompted the OAS audit.
When questioned about whether he would be a candidate in the new election, Mr Morales told a local radio station that "the candidacies must be secondary; what comes first is to pacify Bolivia, " adding that he has a constitutional duty to finish his term.
The election turmoil has rattled Mr Morales, a survivor of Latin America's leftist "pink tide" two decades ago, while shaking faith in the stability of Bolivia's democracy. The crisis threatens to topple the leftist icon at a time when left-leaning leaders have returned to power in Mexico and Argentina.
Mr Mesa said Mr Morales and vice-president Álvaro Garcia Linera should not preside over the electoral process or be candidates.
“If you have an iota of patriotism, you should step aside,” Mr Mesa said in a press conference.
Luis Fernando Camacho, a civic leader from the eastern city of Santa Cruz who has become a symbol of the opposition, said the OAS report clearly demonstrated election fraud and reiterated his call for Mr Morales to resign. He said he plans to carry a pre-written resignation letter for Mr Morales to sign to the government palace.
“Today a battle was won, but we will reconfigure the constitutional order and democracy, and only when we can be sure that democracy is solid, will we go home,” Mr Camacho said to a crowd of cheering supporters in La Paz.
Mr Morales, who came to power in 2006 as Bolivia’s first indigenous leader, has defended his election win but had said he would adhere to the findings of the OAS audit.
The weeks-long standoff over the disputed election escalated over the weekend as police forces were seen joining anti-government protests and the military said it would not “confront the people” over the issue.
“The manipulations to the computer systems are of such magnitude that they must be deeply investigated by the Bolivian state to get to the bottom of and assign responsibility in this serious case,” the preliminary OAS report said.
“The first round of the elections held on October 20th must be annulled and the electoral process must begin again,” the OAS added in a separate statement.
Voting should take place as soon as conditions are in place to guarantee it being able to go ahead, including a newly composed electoral body, the OAS said.
The OAS added that it was statistically unlikely that Mr Morales had secured the 10-percentage-point margin of victory needed to win outright. – Reuters