Growing unrest in Bolivia as audit of disputed poll gets under way

Counting in last month’s presidential election was mysteriously suspended for a day

Last month’s presidential election has sparked a wave of protests in Bolivia. Photograph:  Aizar Raldes/AFP via Getty Images

Last month’s presidential election has sparked a wave of protests in Bolivia. Photograph: Aizar Raldes/AFP via Getty Images

 

The political crisis sparked by last month’s presidential election in Bolivia continues to intensify even as an audit of the disputed poll by the Organisation of American States (OAS) designed to resolve the impasse proceeds.

On Tuesday influential opposition leader Luis Fernando Camacho was forced to leave the capital, La Paz, having failed in his effort to personally deliver a letter demanding that President Evo Morales resign. He was prevented from leaving the airport by supporters of Mr Morales who had mobilised there, some of them reportedly armed with clubs.

The head of a powerful separatist-inclined civic movement in the eastern department of Santa Cruz, Mr Camacho raised the political temperature over the weekend by demanding Mr Morales quit power within 48 hours while calling on the military to remove him if he refused to go.

The government denounced the move before the OAS as evidence that the opposition was using the disputed election as cover for a coup attempt. The country’s military has shown no sign of heeding opposition demand for them to intervene in the crisis.

There has been growing unrest in the Andean nation ever since counting of the October 20th ballot was mysteriously suspended for a day.

Opposition leader Carlos Mesa looked to be heading for a second round run-off against Mr Morales in preliminary results. But after the count restarted Mr Morales had edged 10 points ahead of Mr Mesa, his closest challenger, enough under Bolivia’s system to be declared the outright winner on the first round.

Since then there have been roadblocks and confrontations between government and opposition supporters that have left at least two people dead. In a new escalation this week opponents of Mr Morales have called on their supporters to “take control” of the country’s frontiers.

New elections

Adding to the febrile atmosphere in the country, on Monday Mr Morales’s helicopter suffered an apparent mechanical fault and was forced to make an emergency landing. Many of his supporters took to social media to denounce an assassination attempt.

Having initially called for the presidential contest to proceed directly to a second round, Mr Mesa is now demanding the country’s electoral court be replaced and new elections be called.

Meanwhile, the OAS audit continues and could take up to two weeks to complete. The day after a 30-member OAS team started the process its mission chief, Mexican Arturo Espinosa, resigned after articles he had previously published criticising Bolivia’s electoral process came to light.

After almost 14 years in power Mr Morales is seeking a fourth term in the most polarised presidential election since 2002. Despite his sound management of the economy and successful policies targeting inequality, the president has faced growing accusations of using the state apparatus to perpetuate himself in power.

This has become particularly acute since he refused to accept the result of a 2016 referendum that rejected his demand to be allowed to run for a fourth consecutive term. The country’s constitutional court subsequently ruled that the imposition of term limits violated Mr Morales’s human rights.