Advanced Search

Weekly Report - 27 February 2020 (WR-20-08)

Click here for printer friendly version
Click here for full report

BOLIVIA: Morales still the centre of attention

As Bolivia’s multitude of presidential candidates fight to make their mark in a crowded electoral contest, their efforts continue to be overshadowed by the political narrative surrounding former president Evo Morales (2006-2019). More than three months after he was forced to resign, agreed not to run for re-election, and even left the country, Morales continues to dominate the headlines in Bolivia. The 20 February announcement by the electoral tribunal (TSE) that Morales had been disqualified from running to become a senator came as little surprise, but nonetheless delivered yet another round of drama.

This focus on Morales can to some extent be explained in reference to the ongoing presidential contest. With no candidate demonstrating a particularly strong personal appeal, and the rushed campaign providing little opportunity to do so, most of the frontrunners have defined themselves primarily in relation to Morales’ presidency. Luis Arce, the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) candidate whose simultaneous approval by the TSE was somewhat overshadowed by his colleague’s exclusion (despite both having their candidacies challenged on similar grounds), reacted to the news by condemning the “illegal disqualification” of Morales, and seeking to rally discontented MAS supporters around his own presidential campaign.

Arce’s challengers, most notably interim president Jeanine Áñez (Juntos) and October 2019 runner-up Carlos Mesa (Comunidad Ciudadana), have similarly defined their campaigns in relation to Morales, albeit by positioning themselves oppositely to him; both celebrated the news of Morales’ disqualification, but were quick to emphasise that he remained a threat until the MAS had been defeated, keen to hold on to their primary electoral weapon. An opinion poll published by Mercados y Muestras on 24 February showed that Arce remains the frontrunner with 32%, but that neither Mesa nor Áñez are far behind, on 23% and 21% respectively.

Morales’ reaction to the TSE’s verdict suggests he is more than happy to remain at the centre of attention. His team of lawyers threatened an appeal to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), arguing that the residency requirement should not be applied to candidates living outside of Bolivia “out of necessity”. Morales himself sparked further controversy on 21 February, allegedly threatening a violent response should he be prevented from running in the election, echoing his comments in January about creating “armed militias” [WR-20-02].

  • Military threat

Evo Morales denied having said “if I cannot run for candidate, know that in Bolivia I have contact with patriotic military”, a comment attributed to him by Argentine news website Infobae. Bolivian daily El Deber also reported that Morales had discussed being contacted by “patriotic military” concerned by the actions of the interim government, but suggested that Morales had not claimed any influence over them, or implied any plans for military action.

The announcement that the Bolivian attorney general’s office has opened an investigation into Morales for electoral fraud will provide yet another channel for his public stand-off with the interim government. An earlier report by the Organization of American States (OAS) had found irregularities in the annulled 2019 election, and Áñez-appointed attorney general Juan Lanchipa confirmed just hours after the TSE’s candidacy announcement that a formal investigation would be launched. Morales’ lawyers have previously insisted that he had presidential immunity at the time, and so any investigation or prosecution must go through the legislative assembly.

The interim government also faced international criticism for its role in the events of late 2019, with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemning excessive violence by state security forces in November. Another IACHR delegation will visit the country next week, upon the interim government’s request, but the justice minister, Álvaro Coimbra, has already drawn criticism for suggesting that two members of the group of independent experts “have a biased background in favour of authoritarian governments”, and should be withdrawn. The experts in question had been part of the previous delegation which criticised two “massacres” of protesters by state security forces, and one subsequently described the removal of Morales as a “coup”.