Elections: Bolivia votes split in two in the shadow of Evo Morales | International

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Bolivia arrives at the elections this Sunday divided by strong political and social polarization. The three main political forces vying for power have warned that their rivals will either ignore the results or engage in fraud and cause violence. The interim government of Jeanine Áñez has openly taken sides against one of the candidates, Luis Arce, of Evo Morales' Movement for Socialism (MAS). The forces of order are "ready to avoid the convulsion" that the sympathizers of this candidate will supposedly cause. The population, nervous, has been supplied with fuel and food in recent days, which has caused lines in search of food and shortages.

Apart from this panorama, the expectation is added that the electoral results may be very close. This Saturday afternoon, the Electoral Tribunal has announced that it will dispense with the transmission of the quick vote count, which was interrupted in the October elections of last year, triggering complaints of alleged fraud. On that occasion, the count resumed 22 hours later, with a narrow victory in the first round for former President Morales. "The results of the tests do not allow us to be sure of the complete dissemination of the data that offer the country certainty," said the president of the electoral authority, Salvador Romero, during a press conference. "This is why , with technical seriousness and motivated by responsibility towards the country, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal has decided to withdraw the dissemination of preliminary results of the voting day, ”said Romero, who a day before had assured that the transmission of the data The court, Romero has said, will release partial results after the polls close.

All the polls give the victory to Arce, former Minister of Finance for 11 of the almost 14 years of the Morales government (he briefly left office to treat kidney cancer). The question is whether Arce will triumph with enough advantage to become president in the first round or if he will have to face in a ballot, scheduled for November 29, former president Carlos Mesa (2003-2005), a candidate from the center who is presented as the the only one capable of achieving the reconciliation of Bolivians. In the event of a tiebreaker, the polls give Mesa an advantage.

Bolivia has been experiencing a serious political crisis for a year. The elections of October 20, 2019, in which Evo Morales renewed his mandate for the third time in a row, were rejected by protests in all the cities of the country. The protesters echoed the complaint of electoral fraud made by the candidate who came second, Carlos Mesa himself, but were led by a then little-known regional leader, Luis Fernando Camacho, a native of Santa Cruz, a stronghold of the opposition to Morales . For 21 days, the country's economy was paralyzed. Finally, the Police mutinied and the Armed Forces turned against the Government. Morales resigned, fled to Mexico and eventually took refuge in Argentina, where he still lives. The week following his exile, acts of violence and repression took place, resulting in more than 30 deaths and hundreds of injuries.

Áñez, an opposition senator who comes to office by constitutional succession, promised that she would call an electoral process as soon as possible, but the pandemic prevented it. The elections – in which Añez surprisingly decided to participate – were postponed twice. In August, the MAS organized a road blockade against the latest delay. The MAS represents above all the indigenous sectors – rural and urban – of the country.

In September, after a highly criticized management of the health crisis, Áñez became convinced that he could no longer rise in the polls and resigned his candidacy to facilitate the concentration of the anti-MAS vote. This strategy was partially successful, as it improved Mesa's position in the polls, but failed to involve Camacho, "the victor of Evo Morales," who is also running for the presidency. On the contrary, this political fledgling took advantage of Añez's departure to project himself as the eastern candidate, an area traditionally faced with La Paz, the administrative capital of the country, where Mesa comes from.

The regionalist discourse has allowed Camacho to attract a highly motivated electorate apparently immune to the preaching of the “useful vote” for whoever can stop the MAS (that is, for Mesa). In a video that went viral these days, a young Santa Cruz voter appears who says: “Before blaming Santa Cruz for what happened in the campaign, stop and analyze a little bit (…) Masism was supposed to be without Evo Morales and an electoral fraud were not going to be a threat, but there you see them, scoring in the polls. The fault of the Santa Cruz? Not so relative! (…) Doesn't Santa Cruz have the right to have people to represent it in this centralist government? ”. The young man concludes by wondering why Santa Cruz should hand over “the crown” to someone who does not represent them, even at the cost of a MAS victory in the first round, as indeed can happen. Last Wednesday, Camacho closed his campaign with a speech in which he cried, asked that God "rule Bolivia" and prayed that this October 18 "his will be done."

Both Áñez and his powerful Government Minister, Arturo Murillo, and other senior government officials and the president's party have adhered to the “useful vote” strategy. Several local opinion leaders have painted the possibility of a new MAS government in tragic colors. They say that this party plans to exact revenge on those who participated in its overthrow last year. And they assure that former President Morales, the most rejected personality in the polls, will return to the country immediately after Arce's victory and will handle it as a "puppet."

In the field of the “dirty war”, a large number of messages circulate on WhatsApp to terrorize the anti-MAS middle classes. Its authors seek to ensure that they go to vote, leaving aside the risk of contagion, or simply creating an atmosphere of anxiety. One of these messages “informs” that the peasants are arming themselves to attack the cities. Another affirms that Arce will resign after swearing in office, will hand over power to Morales, and he, as the country's dictatorial president, will dissolve the Armed Forces and the Police. And so.

On the other hand, some MAS spokesmen declared that there can only be a second round in one case: if "the coup rightist" commits fraud. Therefore, they called on the unions to be ready to mobilize at any time. Responding to the accusations, Arce has promised that he will govern alone and "for all Bolivians," and that Morales will have to defend himself in the dozen trials he has against him for crimes ranging from rape to terrorism. At the end of the campaign, the MAS candidate entrusted himself to the indigenous tutelary gods.

One issue that could be the spark that sets fire to the powder keg is the vote of Bolivians abroad. This vote represents more than 3% of the electoral roll and has normally favored the MAS by around 70%. For this reason, this party fears that this time it will be restricted in some way. The Electoral Tribunal has stated that it will do everything necessary to ensure that Bolivian emigrants vote, but it is known that sanitary restrictions in some countries will prevent some voting points from opening, such as in Panama, the cities of northern Chile and in the Argentine province of Mendoza.

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