Almost a year after the resignation of former socialist leader Evo Morales, Bolivians are called back to the polls on Sunday to elect their president in a strongly polarized country, where many calls have been made to avoid a new political crisis.
For the first time in 20 years, Evo Morales (2006-2019), emblematic leader of the South American left, is not a candidate for the presidency. On November 10, 2019, he resigned in the midst of a political crisis, accused of fraud by the opposition, while he was running for a fourth term.
His runner-up, his former Minister of the Economy, Luis Arce, 57, candidate for the Movement towards Socialism (MAS), and his main rival, ex-President Carlos Mesa, 67, are the favorites among six candidates .
According to the latest polls, Mr. Arce, considered the father of the “Bolivian (economic) miracle”, tops the vote in the first round, but should not escape a second round, scheduled for November 29.
Some 7.3 million Bolivians are called upon to elect their president, but also their vice-president, and to renew the entire Parliament, currently dominated by the MAS. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the campaign mainly took place online and on social media.
Your offices will open at 8 a.m. local time and close at 5 p.m. The Electoral Tribunal said on Saturday that, to avoid generating uncertainties and tensions, no preliminary results will be disclosed: “we will not have the official and final result on Sunday evening. We are going to give ourselves a few more hours, and it is important that the citizens show patience, because the result will be reliable, although a little slower, ”explained its president, Salvador Romero.
“These elections open a new cycle for the political history of the country, the end of the cycle of government of Evo Morales and the political crisis. We hope that a process of institutional consolidation will begin, ”political scientist Carlos Cordero from the University Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA) told AFP.
This vote will put an end to the interim government, in place since the resignation of Mr. Morales, and led by the conservative Jeanine Áñez, who finally withdrew her candidacy amid strong criticism of her management of the pandemic which has left more than 8,400 dead in this country of 11 million inhabitants.
After a tense campaign, many Bolivians fear a repeat of the violence which left 36 dead. In recent days, they have been rushed into shops to stock up on food, gas bottles and gasoline.
“Obviously, there will be unrest (…) we hope that it will not last too long,” Clara Quiltaba, 49, told AFP in the city of El Alto, historic stronghold of the MAS. .
Renata Zapata, 24, wants to be more optimistic: she says she hopes the vote will take place peacefully “because we do not want to relive what happened last year, it was terrible”.
According to Guery Chuquimia, anthropologist at UMSA, “we are in another scenario, it is possible that there is agitation, but I doubt that it is of the same magnitude”.
The Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union, the Union of Electoral Organizations of America (UNIORE) and the Carter Foundation dispatched observers.
Calls for calm have also multiplied. The UN, the EU and the Catholic Church called for a “peaceful” vote and respect for the results.
To ensure the transparency of the ballot, the Supreme Electoral Court has been completely renewed. Its president, Salvador Romero, promised “technical rigor, political impartiality and transparency” in the counting of votes.
The Constitution declares winner in the first round the candidate who obtains the absolute majority or 40% of the votes with an advantage of 10 points on the second. Otherwise a second round takes place.
In 2019, the count was suspended for more than 20 hours. When he resumed Evo Morales was declared the winner in the first round. A few days later, the OAS denounced in its report manipulation of the ballot.
Supporters and detractors of the MAS mobilized in the streets of several cities in the country, with violent clashes. Dropped by the police and the army, Evo Morales finally resigned, before fleeing to Mexico and then to Argentina.