A right-wing senator and a fierce critic of former Bolivian President Evo Morales declared herself the country’s interim leader Tuesday, following Morales’ sudden resignation amid mass protests. In response, Morales loyalists tried to force their way to the Congress building and were repelled by security forces firing tear gas.
The appointment of Jeanine Áñez, a 52-year-old member of the center-right Democrat Social Movement, was confirmed by Bolivia’s constitutional court, and the heads of the army and police pledged their support for the new leader. But left-wing lawmakers who are loyal to Morales rejected it, boycotting the legislative session in which she declared herself president.
Áñez filled a power vacuum left by veteran socialist Morales, who resigned Sunday amid mass protests over an allegedly rigged election. As deputy Senate leader, she was next in line to assume the presidency under Bolivia’s constitution, after those ahead of her in the chain of succession — the country’s vice-president, and the leaders of the senate and lower house — resigned alongside Morales.
“Before the definitive absence of the president and vice president … as the president of the Chamber of Senators, I immediately assume the presidency as foreseen in the constitutional order,” Áñez said, swearing on a Bible to applause from opposition politicians.
Áñez, a qualified lawyer and a fierce opponent of Morales, told journalists she planned to hold fresh elections, after monitors from the Washington-based Organization of American States reported Sunday that they had found major irregularities with the vote that returned Morales to his fourth term last month.
“The people who have been in all these protests want us to call presidential elections which are not fraudulent, which are trustworthy,” Áñez said. “My commitment is to return democracy and tranquility to the country.”
But lawmakers from Morales’ Movement for Socialism party boycotted the legislative session, leaving it short of the quorum legally required to appoint her.
Regardless, her appointment was endorsed by Bolivia’s Constitutional Court. The commanders of the military and police, who had called for Morales to resign Sunday amid escalating protests, soon pledged their loyalty.
“Given the circumstances, we want to let you know that following military laws, rules and regulations we make our charges available,” military chiefs wrote in a letter, posted on Twitter by the Pagina Siete newspaper.
Analysts say the support of the armed forces and police will be essential if the interim administration is to maintain order ahead of planned elections. Clashes continued in the Bolivian capital La Paz Tuesday night, with supporters of Morales, calling for Áñez to stand down, were dispersed by police and soldiers.
Morales arrived in Mexico on Tuesday and was granted asylum. He denounced Añez’s appointment as part of “the most cunning and disastrous coup in history,” and vowed to continue his political fight from exile.
“We are here safe thanks to Mexico and its authorities, but I also want to tell you sisters and brothers, as long as I’m alive, we’ll continue in politics,” he said.
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