The fourth time turned out very much not to be the charm. Bolivian president Evo Morales abruptly resigned last night after widespread allegations of election fraud in winning a fourth term in office, following days of growing street protests. The military and the police refused to attack the crowds, leaving Morales with little choice but to get out:
Decrying what he called a “coup,” Evo Morales resigned as president of Bolivia amid an increasingly violent uprising that reached a tipping point Sunday when the military pulled its support. Morales’s stunning fall after nearly 14 years in office came hours after the Organization of American States said it had found “clear manipulation” of the vote last month in which the elder statesman of the Latin American left claimed victory.
The dizzying pace of developments Sunday made an ignominious ending for the region’s longest-serving leader. Bolivia’s first indigenous president won credit for fighting poverty and transforming cities with state investment even as criticism of his authoritarian tendencies rose. Ultimately, the 60-year-old socialist who once commanded landslide victories at the polls found himself isolated: The heads of the armed forces and national police both called on Morales to step down on Sunday, and the country’s main labor union asked him to resign if that’s what it took to save a nation rapidly plunging into mob rule.
In other words, Bolivia’s armed forces had no intention of turning their country into a second Venezuela. Morales’ exit happened so fast after the OAS report that it wasn’t immediately clear who would take over. It won’t be his vice president, Álvaro García Linera, who also stepped down. New elections will have to be called in 90 days, according to the Bolivian constitution, but the gap will likely create a de facto military governance in order to keep order.
Morales has no one to blame but himself, the New York Times pointed out. He wasn’t supposed to be eligible for a fourth term but ran anyway, and then manipulated the voting results to cling to power:
Mr. Morales’s reluctance to give up power — first bending the country’s laws to stand for a fourth election, then insisting that he won despite widespread concerns about fraud — left him besieged by protests, abandoned by allies and unable to count on the police and the armed forces, which sided with the protesters and demanded he resign.
As the country slipped into deeper turmoil over the weekend, protesters voiced their fear of Bolivia’s trajectory under Mr. Morales.
“This is not Cuba. This is not Venezuela!” they chanted in La Paz, Bolivia’s main city, over the weekend. “This is Bolivia, and Bolivia will be respected.”
Morales has called this a “coup” and is trying to gin up a “resistance” to it. He seems to be succeeding in America, where some of the same people who claimed Donald Trump’s 2016 election win was illegitimate are suddenly totes cool with breaking the law and manipulating vote results, as long as it benefits a socialist. For instance, here’s Ilhan Omar:
There's a word for the President of a country being pushed out by the military. It’s called a coup.
We must unequivocally oppose political violence in Bolivia. Bolivians deserve free and fair elections.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) November 11, 2019
Well, yeah, which is what Morales didn’t provide them. Bolivians seem pretty clear on that point, as does the OAS. The fraudulent election was rejected by the voters, who made it clear that they didn’t want to become another Venezuela or Cuba. They want free and fair elections, as well as constitutional rule. Morales didn’t provide either.
Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who initiated a series of pointless and futile recounts after the 2016 election, called it a right-wing coup:
BREAKING: #Bolivia President Evo Morales resigns under military pressure. Right-wing opposition launched violent protests after #Morales' recent re-election, demanding a new vote. Morales agreed to new elections- then army forced him to resign. Another RW coup in Latin America 🚨
— Dr. Jill Stein🌻 (@DrJillStein) November 10, 2019
Color me surprised if there’s anything terribly “right-wing” that emerges in Morales’ wake. Carlos Mesa, Morales’ opponent in the fraudulent election, ran on the Revolutionary Left Front ticket, for instance, although he’s to the right of Morales. To the right of Morales encompasses a lot of territory, however, and it was getting bigger by the day. Socialism remains very popular in South America, even as the masks continue to slip on the movement’s leaders and their ambitions for perpetual power. For instance, Nicolas Maduro’s main opponent in Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, is also a socialist, just less extreme than the Chavistas. In both cases, the policies that emerge are likely to be somewhat to the right of Stein’s Green Party but still to the left of Democrats here in the US.
Still, this does send a warning signal to other leftists in the region. No one really wants to be the next Cuba or Venezuela, nor do they want to sit quietly and watch the next Castro regime rise up either. We say in the US that elections have consequences, but in this case Morales touched off more consequences than he bargained for.