In Brief

Why Bolivia’s President Evo Morales is stepping down

South America’s longest serving leader faced calls to resign after audit found ‘clear manipulations’ of the voting system

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales is standing down after serious irregularities were reported at the vote last month that returned him to power for a fourth term.

The left-wing incumbent, who has led the country for almost 14 years, initally claimed victory over his rival Carlos Mesa by just over 10% following the 20 October election.

However, an audit by the Organisation of American States (OAS) found “clear manipulations” of the voting system that meant it could not verify the result.

There have been widespread protests across the county in the past few weeks, which Reuters says “rattled Morales, a survivor of Latin America’s leftist ‘pink tide’ two decades ago, while shaking faith in the stability of Bolivia’s democracy”.

At least three people have died in the unrest and more than 300 injured in clashes between anti-government protesters and Morales supporters since the election. In a significant development, The Guardian reports that “over the weekend... police forces joined anti-government protests, and the military said it would not ‘confront the people’ who had taken to the streets”.

Backed into a corner and fearing a coup, Morales held a televised news conference yesterday to tell assembled journalists he had decided to call fresh elections to “to preserve the new Bolivia, life and democracy”.

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South America’s longest-standing contemporary leader announced he would also replace members of the country’s election board. The body has been heavily criticised after an unexplained 24-hour halt in the vote count on 20 October, which showed a shift in favour of Morales when it resumed.

But in another televised address today, he announced his resignation, saying he was doing so to protect the families of political allies whose homes have been burned down.

He urged protesters to “stop attacking the brothers and sisters, stop burning and attacking”.

Morales claimed he had been the victim of a coup, but the OAS report said that it was “statistically improbable” that he had obtained the 10% difference to avoid a second round. The president had declared victory before the final count with just enough votes to avoid a run-off, which some polls had indicated he could lose.

“In his 14 years in power, Bolivia’s first indigenous president has won three sweeping presidential victories and changed the Bolivian constitution. But he ignored a defeat in a 2016 referendum on whether he should be allowed to seek a fourth term, angering Bolivians who feared he may have autocratic tendencies,” says the Financial Times.

BBC South America correspondent Katy Watson said many in the opposition would not have accepted Morales as a candidate, with his critics doubtful that clean elections are possible if he ran again. The head of the army had also called on him to resign.

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