With the outgoing President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, taking the flight out from La Paz to Mexico, his asylum in another swathe of Latin America signals the end of a chapter and the beginning of another in the Bolivian narrative. While the crisis in governance has been sought to be addressed in Chile, Bolivia might be in limbo for some time yet, at any rate till fresh elections are convened by the interim leader, Jeanine Añez, a rightwing opposition senator. Morales, who is a victim of his own refusal to hand over power, has left Bolivia to its devices, but there is a groundswell of opposition already to the provisional government.
To be fair, Morales was a successful leader. A trade unionist with familial roots among the country’s indigenous peoples, he was first elected President in 2005 and was twice returned to office with substantial majorities. He is credited by the IMF with achieving a drastic reduction in poverty among farmers and cocoa growers, notably a societal revolution that transformed the condition of the country’s numerous ethnic minority groups. After weeks of street protests, political defections, a police mutiny and a critical decision by the army to withdraw its support, Morales voluntarily quit last Sunday and fled into exile in Mexico.
Bolivia now stutters in search of its moorings. Morales has reportedly said he quit the country because he feared for his life, and now claims he was the victim of a “coup” and his resignation was not formalised. He has also described the properly constituted interim government of Jeanine Añez as a “dictatorship”. This recalcitrance runs the risk of stoking yet more violence between his supporters and security forces that claimed five more lives last Friday. With what has been described as a “Castroesque personality cult”, Morales was determined to grab a fourth consecutive term, and his alleged rigging of last month’s elections has seemingly precipitated his downfall.
If he had stood down at the end of his term in January, he would have reaped goodwill for his achievements, hailed as a champion of democratic certitudes. For all his achievements, the impression that he has potentially created a tragedy for Bolivia is not wholly off the mark. Frequent bouts of sporadic violence could easily escalate into something more destabilising. Ms Añez’s administration, dominated by the opposition and excluding indigenous leaders, may fail to hold fresh elections in a timely manner, as the Constitution requires, while using the interregnum to trash Morales’s legacy.
There is also the fraught possibility that Morales and his supporters will boycott the polls, dispute the winner’s legitimacy, and set up a rival administration, as happened in Venezuela. His claim that he was ousted by a military coup is not borne out by facts. It devolves on Bolivia’s political class, of the Left and now of the Right, to sustain democracy.