Amid widespread protests, Bolivian President Evo Morales is calling for new elections, just three weeks after he declared victory in the country’s last presidential election.
“By calling for new national elections, we guarantee that the people will freely, democratically and peacefully, through voting, elect their new authorities,” Morales tweeted, pleading in another tweet for protestors to “ease the tension.”
Morales called for new elections early Sunday, after the Organization of American States released a preliminary audit indicating “serious security flaws” and a “clear manipulation” of a computer system, which the audit says ultimately affected the final count.
“The manipulations to the computer system are of such a magnitude that they should be deeply investigated by the Bolivian government to get to the bottom of and assign responsibilities in this serious case,” the audit said.
The audit isn’t the only factor likely forcing Morales’ hand: Police across the country have now begun to declare themselves in mutiny and join the throngs of protestors. In several cities, there are reports of officers marching with demonstrators and chanting opposition slogans, according to NPR’s Philip Reeves.
Williams Kaliman, commander of the Bolivian armed forces, said Saturday at a press conference that the military would not confront protestors.
“We will never face the people who we serve and we will always ensure peace between our brothers and the development of our country,” Kaliman said.
Luis Fernando Camacho, a Bolivian protest leader, tweeted that he “cried with joy” at the mutiny of police forces, thanking them for “being with the people.”
Bolivia has been in crisis since its Oct. 20 presidential elections, when allegations of electoral fraud sparked unrest. Morales was vying for a fourth presidential term, but early results after the vote seemed to indicate that he had not secured the votes necessary to outright win, and instead would go into a runoff election against former president Carlos Mesa, his closest rival.
But an unexpected gap in the reporting of results — followed by Morales narrowly securing the necessary votes to avoid that runoff election — led critics to accuse Morales of tampering with the results and thrust the country into turmoil. At two state-run media outlets, protestors broke in and forced the stations off the air. In one small town, protestors dragged the mayor through the street, covered her in red paint and cut off her hair. At least three people have died in the clashes.
Even before the current protests, critics have argued that Morales has been pushing legal boundaries to remain in power. In 2016, voters rejected Morales’ attempt to amend the country’s constitution to allow him to run for a fourth term. Morales appealed in court, where judges ruled he could be allowed on the ballot. Supporters of the president have argued that Morales, the country’s first president of indigenous descent, has led the country into an era of political stability.
Procedures for the new election will be announced in the next few hours, according to the Bolivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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