WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

15 Nov 2019 | WOLA Statement

Bolivia: Inclusion and Compromise Required to Find Peaceful Path Forward

Imposing an Unconstitutional Interim President Deepens the Country’s Political Crisis

Washington, DC—On November 10, Evo Morales resigned as president of Bolivia in the face of widespread protests and under pressure from the Bolivian armed forces, which violated the constitutional prohibition against military interference in political affairs by publicly calling for Morales to step down. Morales’ forced resignation created an immediate power vacuum, since the other office holders in the constitutional line of succession—the vice president, and Senate and Chamber of Deputies leaders, all from Morales’ MAS (Movement to Socialism) party—had also resigned.

On November 12, in a bid to claim the interim presidency, the Senate’s minority opposition bloc—convening and voting without the required quorum—chose Senator Jeanine Áñez as the body’s new leader. Áñez declared herself as Bolivia’s interim president and the Constitutional Tribunal quickly upheld her claim. The next day the Trump administration applauded Áñez for “stepping up” to the interim presidency.

But without the quorum required by Senate rules (an absolute majority of members) and without any presence of the MAS majority—which holds 25 of the Senate’s 36 seats—Áñezselection as Senate leader and her claim to interim president are illegitimate on their face, as they are the result of patently invalid procedures. 

Unless leaders on both sides can reach a constitutionally valid compromise solution for selecting an interim president, confrontation and conflict could escalate even further.

Countering the minority bloc’s move, the MAS members of the Chamber of Deputies (on November 13) and the Senate (November 14) convened and elected new leaders, fulfilling their bodies’ quorum rules. Based on the constitutional line of succession, the Senate leader elected by the MAS majority, Monica Eva Copa, holds legitimate claim to the position of interim president—the role already claimed by Áñez.

Unless leaders on both sides can reach a constitutionally valid compromise solution for selecting an interim president, confrontation and conflict could escalate even further. 

Rather than filling Bolivia’s dangerous political vacuum, the actions of the minority bloc in the Senate have accentuated the political crisis roiling the country since Morales was unconstitutionally ousted. To preserve democracy and restore social peace in Bolivia, it is urgent that the opposition parties and the MAS reach a negotiated agreement to name an interim president and conduct new elections in strict accord with the constitution.

After taking office in 2006, Evo Morales and his political party made enormous gains in reducing inequality and defending the rights of the long-marginalized indigenous communities in Bolivia. However, a controversial Constitutional Tribunal ruling in 2017 reversed Morales’s loss of a 2016 referendum, allowing him to seek a fourth term and fueling mistrust in an already deeply polarized society. That mistrust erupted into anger and massive protests following the October 20 elections, when Morales claimed victory in a process marred by allegations of significant fraud. 

In the face of mounting outrage, Morales invited the Organization of American States (OAS) to conduct an audit of the October 20 election, and agreed that the audit results would be binding. Unlike some of his predecessors in the presidency, he refrained from ordering the military into the streets to quell protests and instructed police to not use lethal force against protesters. On the morning of November 10, when the OAS announced that it deemed the October 20 vote to be annulled, Morales called for new elections with a new electoral tribunal. But the opposition demanded his immediate resignation. With his support crumbling among the police, and with the military calling publicly for his departure, Morales stepped down.

The resulting power vacuum has plunged Bolivia into chaos, with escalating violence on both sides, including targeting of MAS political leaders, journalists, coca growers and indigenous communities by police, military, and opposition forces.

The international community should provide unwavering support to facilitate and reinforce Bolivian efforts to achieve the inclusive steps that are urgently required to ensure democratic, constitutional governance...

Looking ahead, a peaceful path forward for Bolivia will require an inclusive process to name the members of a renovated electoral authority and organize credible elections within the 90-day period mandated by the constitution. In a bitterly divided country, neither side can impose their agenda without exacerbating the conflict. If the emboldened opposition attempts to sideline the MAS and the social movements it represents, Bolivia could descend into an even more severe crisis.

To restore peace and ensure a fair and credible election process for all Bolivians, leaders across the political spectrum must immediately condemn acts of violence on all sides.

In the spirit of compromise required to forge a peaceful path forward for all Bolivians, the ideal next step would be for the full Senate and the full Chamber of Deputies—with their entire memberships represented—to convene and choose new leaders for both bodies that are acceptable to all parties. Áñez should step aside, and the consensus choice for Senate leader should assume the interim presidency and oversee preparations for new elections, as the constitution requires. 

The international community should provide unwavering support to facilitate and reinforce Bolivian efforts to achieve the inclusive steps that are urgently required to ensure democratic, constitutional governance, and prevent further bloodshed.