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Bolivia’s election crisis has citizens wondering if a coup is imminent

Undoubtedly, there is a political crisis going on in Bolivia and there has been a lot of controversy over how to characterize what has been going on there the past week. 

The longest serving president in Latino American history Evo Morales resigned after the head of the military took to the air waves to call for his resignation claiming fraud and irregularities in the latest elections. Others went as far as calling him dictator for extending term limits to keep himself in power. Many, including Morales himself, have characterized this as a military coup. So, which is it?

To be brief, Morales had won the election on Oct. 20 against opposition leader and former President Carlos Mesa but his margin of victory was not nearly as large as it was in previous elections. 

The margin is the critical point of the oppositions claims against Morales. In Bolivia, if a candidate receives over a 50% majority, there is no run-off election. However, if a candidate receives less than a 50% majority, that candidate needs to beat their opponent by over a 10% margin. Morales did not receive a 50% majority but he did beat his closest component by over a 10-point margin as the official count of the election has now been published. 

So how did this clear victory become so hotly contested? It was a preliminary report that showed Morales’ winning margin being less than 10 points, which lead to claims of fraud and voting irregularities from opposition leader Mesa as well as others who support him.

That preliminary report showed Morales up by less than a 10-point margin and anyone who pays attention to elections knows that the quick count is not the official count, but this is what Mesa and members of the Trump administration decided to focus on. Mesa went as far as to say that he would not accept the official count as he suspected foul play and declared the very next day that he had made it to the second round of the election based on the quick count reports. “Williams Kaliman, commander of Bolivia’s armed forces, and National Police Chief Vladimir Calderón both called for his resignation,” New York Magazine reported. 

When the head of the armed forces tells the president and the vice president to resign and they do, there is no other way to characterize except a military coup. The military does not have to stick a gun literally to the president’s head in order to force him to resign for it to be considered a coup. 

Morales agreed to an audit as well as a reelection in order to calm the turmoil but the opposition resisted these concessions. The only contender that could be presented against Morales was about to serve his fourth term as president due to recent changes in Bolivia’s constitution, and that could be seen as dictatorial.

Whether or not people agree with the change of term limits in the constitution is really irrelevant. It became the law in Bolivia and should have been fought through the legislature, not through violent protests in the streets. Once the official count came in, Morales had won 47% to 36.5%, according to The Nation. The only thing that the OAS pointed to as far as the “irregularities” was their deep surprise by the trend of the final votes that were coming in the preliminary count. 

Not a word was mentioned by OAS about the official account for weeks as they repeated the narrative that there was something fishy about the quick count the day of the election. Morales did not lose the election nor was he impeached or found guilty of any crimes. 

The only reason that he resigned was due to the growing pressure from the head of Bolivia’s armed forces and opposition leader Mesa who directly called for his resignation. Members from Trump’s administration as well as Senator Marco Rubio fed into this false narrative of Mesa securing enough votes to call for a second round of elections that have led to the political turmoil that Bolivia is experiencing now.

The only thing that can be inferred now is that this is another attempt at a regime change in Latin America but it will prove to be a difficult task in ousting Morales as he remains a success story turning around the poorest country in Latin America throughout his time as president. Morales is currently seeking refuge in Mexico for fears of violence against him and his administration, many who resigned at the same time he did.

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