Until last week, Evo Morales was the longest standing Latin American political leader in recent decades. Now, due to pressure from Bolivia’s armed forces and the police, he has been forced to resign, and to flee to Mexico where he is currently taking refuge. Interim president Jeanine Áñez, Christian opposition politician who has expressed a desire to reform the Bolivian political system, has replaced him.
Protests for and against Bolivia’s ex-president Evo Morales erupted after the declaration of the Supreme Court on the 26th of October, when they announced that Morales was the winner of the latest presidential elections and therefore there was no need to hold a second round. Reports of electoral fraud from the Organisation of American States (OEA) later indicated that there were “serious irregularities” throughout.
Morales, who would be completing his fourth term in office as the first indigenous president of Latin America, became a transnational symbol of the indigenous fight against neoliberalism, racism and extractivism in the region.
During his time in office, Morales integrated indigenous and peasant sectors of the population into the political sphere, and he successfully resisted the US policy of eradication of coca crops defending its traditional and medicinal use by Bolivia’s indigenous communities.
However, he ended un opening the doors to the extractivism and also weakened the mechanisms that guarantee democracy in the country in order to extend his presidential mandate. He challenged the Constitution of Bolivia to allow him to run for a third term, when it had been laid out that the maximum term length was two. He then asked for an ammendmentto allos a forth mandate in a referendum, which he lost. Nevertheless, he carried on his candidacy in the recent elections, that ended up so badly for him.
For these reasons, many social sectors of Bolivia have come together in celebration of the resignation of Morales, meanwhile others take to the streets to defend him. What is worth knowing about new president, Jeanine Añez, and what could happen during the next elections in Bolivia?
Who is Jeanine Áñez?
Jeanine Áñez, the new interim president of Bolivia, replaces Morales in a context of division and polarisation. Those who believe Morales’ resignation was a coup d’etat think that Bolivia’s conservatives have forced out an indigenous leader in order to impose a more right-wing, neoliberal agenda in the country.
"I dream of a Bolivia without satanic indigenous rituals, the city isn’t made for indians, they need to go back to the countryside! "- the new president had said in an old Tweet.
Those who believe that Añez will bring democracy back to Bolivia on the other hand see her as the only hope for holding free and fair elections.
An unknown political figure until last week, the ex-vice president of the Bolivian senate, Añez declared herself as interim president during a plenary session that was boycotted by members of Morales’ party, MAS (Socialist Movement).
Añez has already attracted controversy due to her beliefs that defend a Christian, ultra-conservative state, and from her first entry to the presidential palace, she left it clear that she would be adopting a different strategy from her predecessor.
Añez appears in a video whilst entering the government headquarters with a bible in her hands, declaring “thank god, the bible has returned to the Bolivian government”, while a group of supporters surrounding her shout “the bible has returned to the government”. The new president, who belongs to the coalition Plan Progreso para Bolivia Convergencia Nacional, a right-wing agroupation, has also attracted controversy over racist comments made on her Twitter account.
“I dream of a Bolivia without satanic indigenous rituals, the city isn’t made for indians, they need to go back to the countryside!” she wrote in a Tweet in 2013. Her attitudes towards indigenous communities, who according to CEPAL make up 62.2% of the Bolivian population, are extremely worrying as they could represent a significant backslide in indigenous rights and an end to the use of the Wiphala (indigenous flag of the Aymara community) as the flag of Bolivia as stated in the 2008 Constitution.
What will happen now?
There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding what could happen in Bolivia, and although Áñez has promised to hold new elections, she has made no mention of free and fair elections, instead of elections that “truly reflect” the political will of Bolivians.
Áñez has already made a declaration in which she claims the Electoral Tribunal could decide next month if it will prohibit the participation of MAS in the next elections
This could be an early warning that she may attempt to expel those who are in disagreement with her own political agenda, and that of Plan Progreso.
Effectively, she has already made a public declaration in which she claims the Electoral Tribunal of Bolivia could decide next month if it will prohibit the participation of MAS in the next elections, suggesting that there is a possibility that electoral censorship could take place. This is of concern as MAS continues to hold a majority in the Bolivian senate.
What’s more, we cannot expect that Áñez’s transition government immediately renovates political and electoral institutions that according to Freedom House are severely affected by corruption, therefore, new elections could also easily present irregularities. This could be like replacing one seemingly illegitimate president with another illegitimate one.