On March 26, the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin American Advisor newsletter featured a Q&A section on how will a delayed vote alter Bolivia’s presidential race.
The respondents including Iván C. Rebolledo of TerraNova Strategic Partners and the Bolivian-American Chamber of Commerce, Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network, John Walsh of the Washington Office on Latin America, and Roberto Laserna of the Economic and Social Reality.
You can read the entire Q&A here; John Walsh’s contribution is below:
Latin American Advisor: Bolivia’s interim government has postponed the country’s May 3 presidential election amid the coronavirus pandemic. The May vote had been planned as a re-do following the disputed re-election victory and subsequent self-exile of then-President Evo Morales last year. Since then, the national ombudsman and human rights groups have accused interim President Jeanine Áñez of presiding over the detentions of hundreds of political opponents, the silencing of journalists and a campaign of so-called “national pacification” that has left dozens of people dead. How is Bolivia’s presidential race shaping up? What effect will the delayed election and the coronavirus outbreak have on the country’s politics? What should be done about the human rights abuse accusations lodged against Áñez’s interim government?
John Walsh: “Postponing national elections should be reserved for only the most extreme circumstances. This is all the more true in a polarized environment like Bolivia’s, where the executive branch does not have a mandate from the voters and where credible elections will be crucial to fostering social peace.
“The public health threat posed by COVID-19 meets this extraordinary threshold. But Bolivia’s interim government under Jeanine Áñez does not have the authority on its own to postpone elections, much less to set a new voting date.
All Bolivians must ultimately consider the electoral process to be credible in order for the voting results to help heal the country’s divisions rather than exacerbate tensions and stoke renewed conflict and violence...
“Attempting to do so unilaterally would inflame an already tense situation—especially because Áñez is not only the interim executive but is herself campaigning for the presidency, despite having pledged that she would not run. The electoral authority (TSE) is seeking to promote dialogue across the competing parties on the key question of a new voting date. Ultimately, the political parties themselves will need to reach an agreement that can become law, in a legislature where MAS still holds majorities in both chambers.
Reaching such an agreement will be complicated by deep mutual distrust among key actors and many of their supporters. MAS presidential candidate Luis Arce enjoys a sizable lead in the polls. MAS, having acknowledged the need to postpone the voting, can be expected to bargain for the briefest possible delay and to insist that the Áñez government’s harassment of MAS candidates and partisans must cease immediately.
“All Bolivians must ultimately consider the electoral process to be credible in order for the voting results to help heal the country’s divisions rather than exacerbate tensions and stoke renewed conflict and violence. As an agreement is forged on the legislation needed to set a new electoral calendar, technical and scientific criteria regarding the protection of both public health and electoral integrity must prevail so that all Bolivians can have confidence that they will be able to fully exercise their fundamental right to freely elect their own leaders as soon as possible.”