Demonstrators take part in a protest in La Paz, Bolivia, on October 22 2019. Picture: REUTERS/MANUEL CLAURE
Demonstrators take part in a protest in La Paz, Bolivia, on October 22 2019. Picture: REUTERS/MANUEL CLAURE

La Paz — A general strike began on Wednesday in Bolivia to protest election results signalling long-time President Evo Morales is likely to secure another term.

With more than 95% of the vote counted, Morales had 46.4% compared with 37%t for his main rival, centrist Carlos Mesa, just shy of the 10-point lead necessary to avoid a runoff.

Opposition supporters reacted with fury on Monday to delayed results that showed Morales, Latin America’s longest-serving president, edging towards the 10 percentage point margin.

That flew in the face of preliminary results released earlier that showed Mesa coming in a close second in Sunday’s polls and forcing a runoff.

Monitors from the Organisation of American States (OAS) said the delayed results showed a “drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results” that “clearly indicated a second round”.

Mesa, a former president, said he would reject the result.

Vote count ongoing

The slow official vote count continued overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday.

The government on Tuesday asked the OAS to conduct an audit of the vote-counting process as soon as possible.

An audit could help determine whether votes were counted accurately and whether proper procedures were followed.

Internal divisions within the Supreme Electoral Tribunal became apparent late Tuesday when the body’s vice-president announced his resignation.

In a letter, Antonio Costa — a veteran of the electoral court — condemned what he called the body’s mismanagement of the election count and its “foolish” decision to temporarily suspend the count on Sunday night.

Representatives of civil society organisations from Bolivia’s six regions backed a call to extend a strike originally set for Tuesday in the country’s largest city Santa Cruz.

The general strike came into effect at midnight on Tuesday and will “continue until democracy and the will of the citizens are respected”, the organisations said.

Pro-Morales protests

Meanwhile, an umbrella organisation of pro-Morales labour and farmers’ unions, Conalcam, called on its members to defend the official results.

“We will go out on the streets and on the roads to firmly defend democracy and the votes of Bolivians,” said the leader of the main union, Juan Carlos Guarachi, after a meeting Morales.

Monday’s sudden change in the election count sparked rioting in several cities.

Mobs torched electoral offices in Sucre and Potosi, while rival supporters clashed in the capital La Paz.

Long lines formed at gas stations amid the fear of shortages.

Health workers, on strike for the past month, demonstrated outside the electoral authority headquarters on Tuesday.

Mesa, who served as president from 2001 to 2005, accused Morales of colluding with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to tweak results and avoid a runoff.

The top US diplomat in the region, Michael Kozak, called on the election authorities to “to immediately act to restore credibility in the vote-counting process.”

Spain, Argentina, Brazil and Colombia also voiced concern.

Longest-serving president

Morales, Latin America’s longest-serving president, is controversially seeking a fourth term.

He obtained Constitutional Court permission in 2017 to run again for president after he ignored the result a 2016 referendum.

The former coca farmer and leftist union leader has led the poor but resource-rich Latin American country for the past 13 years, though his popularity has waned amid allegations of corruption and authoritarianism.

He has led the country since taking office in 2006, when he became its first indigenous president.

A new mandate would keep him in power until 2025.

As leader of his Movement for Socialism Party, Morales points to a decade of economic stability and considerable industrialisation as his achievements, while insisting he has brought “dignity” to Bolivia’s indigenous population, the largest in Latin America.

AFP