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Fears grow of vote manipulation as army to supervise election

We must stand with all those fighting for democracy and social progress in Bolivia, writes CHRISTINE BLOWER, Labour member of the House of Lords and supporter of Friends of Bolivia

ON October 18 Bolivia will hold its first presidential elections after the military-backed coup that forced former president Evo Morales to resign on November 10, 2019. 

After seizing power in the coup, Bolivia’s hard right-wing and Trump-supported “interim” government has shown itself to be no respecter of human rights or democracy. Bolivia has faced continued turmoil and political instability.

The de facto government of Jeanine Anez has persecuted progressive leaders and presided over killings and other abuses of authority, changing the election date several times in an attempt to cling onto power.

The interim government has also done everything in its power to prevent Evo Morales’s MAS party (Movement Towards Socialism) from taking part in the election. Prominent members of MAS were accused of sedition, and in some cases illegally detained. Some ministers and former ministers had their homes attacked and lives threatened, leading them to request asylum in the Mexican embassy in La Paz for safety.

With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Bolivia found itself by the summer in a deepening political, economic, social and health crisis. The government’s response to it saw them do little to protect the most vulnerable citizens, and in particular those who work in the informal economy. Harsh austerity measures led to a serious health crisis and a shortage of medical supplies. The indigenous population, many of whom support MAS and the previous government of Evo Morales, have been particularly hard hit.

In recent months we have seen a general strike, roadblocks, mass marches and much more as part of a wave of resistance against the coup regime.

The Bolivian trade unions, MAS supporters and the coca growers of Cochabamba have been among those demonstrating to demand their right to vote in elections, while health workers have protested about the inadequate medical supplies provided by the reactionary government. The protests have been nothing less than a national uprising against the coup regime. 

In response, the interim government has continued its repression of socialists, trade unionists, indigenous communities and other progressive forces. Interior Minister Arturo Murillo – recently censured and dismissed by the legislature – had  threatened to deploy troops to intervene if the various social movements persisted in holding demonstrations, but people have continued to resist in the build-up to the election.

The turnout for the election is expected to be huge. According to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, more than 7 million people are expected to vote out of the country's estimated population of 11,428,245 citizens.

So far, all the polls indicate that Luis Arce, the MAS candidate, is the favourite to win the election, having overcome several attempts by the interim government and right-wing opponents to bar him and the MAS party from the poll.

However, there is understandably widespread concern among MAS supporters that the government is already taking steps to prevent a fair result. The coup government is on record as saying that it “won't allow a MAS victory." The interior minister Arturo Murillo and coup president Jeanine Anez have said that the army and the police "will act to preserve democracy." "The national police will act, and the Army will act," Murillo said recently while also urging the soldiers to "leave their lives on the streets." 

Confidence is not inspired by the army taking care of all the electoral material. There is concern that the election results will be rigged to deprive the MAS of a first-round victory, forcing a second round in which its right wing opponents would create an alliance to secure a victory for former president Carlos Mesa, Luis Arce’s nearest presidential challenger.

Although five international missions will be observing the electoral process, one of them is the US-dominated Organisation of American States (OAS), whose mid-count report in last year’s election announcing “deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results” paved the way and helped legitimise support by the US and its allies for the coup.

It was another six months before the mistake was acknowledged by some in the media, too late to reverse the annulment of the elections. At the time of writing, there is also concern that international observers from more progressive forces may be deported or face intimidation. 

Grounds for suspicion about the US’s desired outcome of the election also lie in the fact that earlier this month Interior Minister Arturo Murillo went on a four-day visit to Washington DC to discuss "issues of state security" and the election. Murillo has also called on voters to support former president Carlos Mesa.

The people of Bolivia have made huge sacrifices in their battle against the Trump-sponsored coup-regime and vicious neo-liberalism – we must stand with them.

Sign the Friends of Bolivia solidarity statement at bit.ly/boliviarepression and follow Friends of Bolivia at www.twitter.com/BoliviaFriends and www.facebook.com/BoliviaFriends.

Attend the Bolivia – Building Solidarity meeting on Monday October 19 at 7pm with Jeremy Corbyn plus Bolivia’s former economic & development minister Patricia Ballivian, live links from Bolivia including journalist Ollie Vargas / Richard Burgon MP / Kate Hudson (CND) / Adrian Weir (Unite) / & Bolivian community in the UK speakers including Javier Sanchez (SUMA QAMANA). Register at mstar.link/FriendsofBolivia.

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