Long-standing Bolivian president Evo Morales announced his resignation on Sunday in an effort to encourage peace and stability following weeks of protests against his re-election. Protesters have accused the president of committing election fraud in the country’s most recent election, and the military formally asked the president to step down amidst violent clashes amongst protesters and police alike. Former President Morales, who has remained in power for 14 years and remains the longest standing head of state in Latin America according to the New York Times, has emphasized in his letter of resignation (reproduced by Reuters World News) his “obligation as indigenous president and president of all Bolivians to seek peace.” He denies any wrong doing and has claimed to be a victim of a “coup.”
Former President Morales was not previously unpopular, and he was the first indigenous president Bolivia had seen after centuries of European influence and rule. Morales is often accredited with addressing major inequalities in the country and was in power during an era of vast economic growth. According to the New York Times, Bolivians saw him as their “first true representative in the capital,” up until he over-stayed his welcome. He was criticized during his presidency for land mismanagement, inequitable service delivery, and his blatant disregard for a referendum that denied public support for an extended term limit, according to an article by Foreign Policy.
Reuters reports that many Latin American leftist allies came to Morales’ defence after his resignation. While presidents and public officials in Venezuela, Argentina, and Nicaragua have openly denounced the situation in Bolivia as a “coup” and “fascist,” the Mexican foreign minister has offered the ex-president asylum. According to the BBC, President Trump said in a statement on Monday that Morales’ resignation was a “significant moment for democracy in the Western Hemisphere.”
In an attempt to extend his reach of power, Morales defied a constitutional term limit stipulation in order to run for an unconstitutional fourth term in October’s elections. However, according to NBC News, the Organization of American States (OAS) revealed “clear manipulations” in the country’s voting systems after Morales supposedly won the election on October 20th—with a lead of just over 10 points above his main opponent, Carlos Mesa. Protesters took to the streets in violent clashes, demanding that Morales step down from the presidency in the name of democracy. After weeks of unrest in the country, both President Morales and Vice President Álvaro García Linera stepped down and stated that they wished to curb the violence that had ensued for weeks after the disputed election.
Bolivia finds itself in what BBC has called a “power vacuum;” while supporters of Morales’ resignation have celebrated the end of tyranny, those in support of the former president have called the situation a “coup” of sorts. After all, the Bolivian military are mainly responsible for intimidating Morales into stepping down down, which destabilizes democracy on both sides of this binary. According to an article by Foreign Policy, no Bolivian president since 2002 has handed over power peacefully (all resigned after public pressure) which has resulted in an uncertain future for this destabilized region. According to the BBC, the deputy leader of the Senate, Jeanine Áñez, said she would assume power as interim leader until elections were held, and she emphasized in a statement that her only goal while in power will be to call re-elections and that it is “simply a transitional phase.” Violence has not subsided even after the former president’s resignation. According to BBC, clashes between Morales supporters and police in the cities of La Paz and El Alto ensued after the resignation, and at least 20 people were injured; however, despite this counter-protest, other Bolivians have celebrated Morales’ departure from power. The hope for peace and the reinstatement of stability lies in the interim president’s ability to call re-elections so that the people of Bolivia can put their confidence back in the nation-state and its electoral system.
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