The presidential election took place peacefully on Sunday in Bolivia, apart from a few isolated incidents. The results should not be known quickly.
Bolivians voted quietly on Sunday to elect their president in a highly polarized country, after a year of serious political crisis and the resignation of leftist leader Evo Morales. Polling stations began to close at 5 p.m. local time (11 p.m. Swiss), AFP journalists noted. They can, however, remain open for an hour longer when voters are waiting outside.
The interim government said at the end of the afternoon that the poll had proceeded peacefully, apart from a few isolated incidents. “The day has passed in peace throughout the country so far,” Deputy Minister of Security Wilson Santamaria said in a statement.
The health protocol linked to the coronavirus pandemic, imposing in particular physical distancing, nevertheless slowed down the voting process, some voters having sometimes had to wait more than two hours to accomplish their duty as citizens, according to an AFP journalist.
Arce and Mesa favorites
For the first time in 20 years, Evo Morales (2006-2019), emblematic leader of the South American left, is not a candidate for the presidency. On November 10, 2019, he resigned in the midst of a political crisis, accused of fraud by the opposition, while he was running for a fourth term. His runner-up and ex-Minister of the Economy, Luis Arce, 57, candidate for the Movement towards Socialism (MAS), and his main rival, the centrist ex-president Carlos Mesa, 67, are the favorites among six candidates.
However, the results should not be known quickly: the electoral tribunal said on Saturday that, to avoid generating tensions, no preliminary results would be disclosed. “We will not have the official and final result on Sunday evening. We are going to give ourselves a few more hours, and it is important that the citizens show patience because the result will be reliable, although a little slower, ”explained its president, Salvador Romero.
This last-minute suspension “is not very judicious” because “it could generate doubts” on the results, estimated Luis Arce, after having voted in a school in La Paz. “It is not ideal, but we understand that (the electoral court) chose this path to guarantee the absolute safety of the vote and especially the official count” of the votes, reacted Carlos Mesa, who voted a residential area of the capital city.
Second round in sight
According to the latest polls, Luis Arce tops the list of voting intentions in the first round, but should not escape a second round, scheduled for November 29.
Some 7.3 million Bolivians are called upon to elect their president, but also their vice-president, and to renew the entire Parliament, currently dominated by the MAS. However, many Bolivians fear a repeat of the violence that left 36 people dead last year. In recent days, they have flocked to shops to stock up on food, gas and gasoline. “I really don’t know what’s going to happen, I’m afraid it will be even worse,” Virginia Luna, 41, told AFP.
“These elections open a new cycle for the political history of the country, the end of the cycle of government of Evo Morales and of the political crisis,” said political scientist Carlos Cordero, of the University Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA).
De facto, this election will put an end to the interim government led by conservative Jeanine Áñez. She withdrew her candidacy in the face of strong criticism of her management of the pandemic, which has killed more than 8,400 in this country of 11 million inhabitants.
To ensure the transparency of the ballot, the composition of the electoral tribunal has been renewed. Observers were dispatched by the Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union, the Union of Electoral Organizations of America (UNIORE) and the Carter Foundation. The UN, the EU and the Catholic Church called for a “peaceful” vote and respect for the results.
From Argentina where he is a refugee, Evo Morales, who could not stand for re-election, himself launched on Sunday a call for “the result of the elections to be respected by all”. “It is very important that all Bolivians and all political parties calmly wait for every vote (…) to be taken into account,” said Evo Morales.
The Constitution declares winner in the first round the candidate who obtains the absolute majority or 40% of the votes with an advantage of 10 points on the second. Otherwise a second round takes place.
In 2019, the count had been suspended for more than 20 hours. In his recovery, Evo Morales had been declared the winner in the first round. The opposition had denounced fraud and clashes had taken place between supporters and detractors of the MAS in several cities across the country. Released by police and the army, Evo Morales eventually resigned, before fleeing to Mexico and then Argentina.
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