Earlier this week, the Organization of American States, also known as the O.A.S, finalized, published a report that affirmed previous suspicions of election fraud in Bolivia. This past October, Bolivia held its general elections and former President Evo Morales won his fourth term in office with over 47% of the popular vote, narrowly escaping a run-off second-round vote. Morales’ victory was shrouded with controversy and allegations of manipulation (Zissis 1). The contentious election results spurred civil unrest and protests that led Morales to resign and flee into exile in Mexico.
Morales was first elected as Bolivia’s first indigenous president in 2006. During his fourteen years as President, Morales made great economic and political strides. As the head of the Movement Towards Socialism – Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples Party, or MAS-IPSP, Morales boosted millions of Bolivians out of poverty, created a more diverse economy, and fought for civil, indigenous rights (“Election Fraud Aided Evo Morales, International Panel Concludes” 1).
Morales was particularly beloved by the state’s farmers and seen as a man of the people. In a recent interview conducted by The New York Times, Antonietta Ledezi, a coca farmer and Morales supporter, said, “Evo Morales is like a father to us,” while Gregorio Choque, another coca farmer, argued that “he was the only president we have ever seen… he was in the fields with us” (“Evo Morales Is Like a Father to Us” 2). While idolized by many, Morales’ critics labeled him as a power-thirsty, oppressive authoritarian. Anatoly Kurmanaev, a reporter for the New York Times, argues that “Mr. Morales’s economic and political successes, however, bred increasingly authoritarian tendencies that eventually led to his downfall” (“Election” 1). These “authoritarian tendencies” are particularly evident in Bolivia’s most recent election cycles. Passed in 2009, the Bolivian constitution states that the President and Vice-President are only allowed to run for re-election once, limiting the number of terms to two. In the 2014 elections, Morales found a loophole, which was upheld by the courts, that claimed that his first term, in 2006, did not count towards his total since the two-term limits were not introduced until 2009, thus allowing Morales to run for a third term (Blair 1). In 2016, Morales held a referendum to amend the constitution to allow him to run for a fourth consecutive term. Although the referendum barely failed, rejected by a vote of 51.3% to 48.7%, Morales once again utilized the courts to maintain his rule. In 2017, “the country’s highest court overruled the constitution, scrapping term limits altogether for every office. Morales [could] now run for a fourth term in 2019 – and for every election thereafter” (Blair 1). Morales’s clear abuse of power allowed him to run for a fourth term, but the fraudulent election practices and results were the last straw.
In the audit conducted by O.A.S, it states that Bolivia’s October general election was marred by “a series of malicious operations aimed at altering the will expressed at the polls” (“Election” 1). The report cites “changes in the minutes and the falsification of the signatures of poll officials,” as well as accusations against “Bolivia’s election officials of setting up a parallel technological scheme of hidden servers, which permitted the alteration of results and forging of signatures of electoral observers” (“Evo Morales: Overwhelming evidence of election fraud in Bolivia, monitors say” 1). Moreover, the initial protests began when the electoral board decided to stop counting votes after it seemed that Mr. Morales would not secure a large enough victory to avoid a run-off, a candidate wins outright if he receives either more than 50% of the vote or between 40% and 50% of the vote and are at least 10 percentage points higher than their closest competitor. When the counting resumed the next day, Morales gained a majority of the remaining votes to put himself 11 percentage points above his next closest rival. The O.A.S report has since confirmed that “the sudden halt in the transmission of results was “intentional, arbitrary and without technical basis” (“Election 3). Due to the suspicious results and protests, Morales attempted to replace the electoral officials and hold a fresh poll, but it was too little too late. On November 10, Morales lost the support of his military and sought asylum in Mexico.
There are many connections between what we have studied in class and the current situation in Bolivia. Earlier this semester, we analyzed the different ways in which an authoritarian leader rises to power and what tools they utilize to sustain their rule. Morales, similar to Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, came to power fairly and through the electoral system in place. Morales then proceeded to manipulate the court, the constitution, and the election results to maintain his rule. These tactics are evident in other competitive authoritarian regimes, such as in Zimbabwe, and prove that while elections are necessary for all democracies to exist, elections alone do not ensure a democratic regime. The situation in Bolivia also relates to our previous class discussions about regime, government failure and political revolutions, liberalizations. Finally, the O.A.S. audit relates to the topic of international influence. Our class has touched on the idea of international, specifically Western, linkage and leverage. This report was both international and independent and serves as a relatively unbiased account of the fraudulent acts committed by Morales and his government.
This report seems to be the final nail in Morales’ coffin. The audit legitimizes the protestors’ anger with the Morales administration and validates their desire for change. While the future of Bolivia’s government is uncertain, the O.A.S.’s report is bound to have an impact. What effects will the O.A.S.’s report have on the future of Bolivia’s government and regime-type? What is the importance of this being an independent international audit rather than a local investigation and are there any other cases or times when international independent reports sparked a revolution, liberalization, or democratization?
Blair, Laurence. “Evo for Ever? Bolivia Scraps Term Limits as Critics Blast ‘Coup’ to Keep Morales in Power.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 3 Dec. 2017.
“Evo Morales: Overwhelming Evidence of Election Fraud in Bolivia, Monitors Say.” BBC News, BBC, 6 Dec. 2019.
Kurmanaev, Anatoly, and Federico Rios. “’Evo Morales Is Like a Father to Us’.” The New York Times, 27 Nov. 2019.
Kurmanaev, Anatoly. “Election Fraud Aided Evo Morales, International Panel Concludes.” The New York Times, 5 Dec. 2019.
Zissis, Carin. “Timeline: Evo Morales Resigns from the Bolivian Presidency.” AS/COA, 10 Nov. 2019.