The first round of elections for the presidency of Bolivia takes place this Sunday (18). Voters choose who to replace Jeanine Añez, the interim president who took office in November 2019, after the annulment of that year’s vote and the disturbances that led Evo Morales to resign (read more at the end of the story).
The polls are open from 9 am to 6 pm (Brasília time), but this year, due to the pandemic of the new coronavirus, the voters will not have all day to vote. The electoral court defined a division between voters according to the last digit of the identity card: those who end with numbers from 0 to 4 vote in the morning, and those from 5 to 9, in the afternoon.
These are the first elections in Bolivia without Evo Morales since 1997.
The election can be decided in the first round if one of the candidates has at least 40% of the votes valid and more than ten percentage points more than the runner-up. If nobody achieves this result, a second round is scheduled for November 29th.
See below who are the three competitors that lead the research:
Luis Fernando Camacho, Carlos Mesa and Luis Arce, candidates for the presidency of Bolivia – Photo: Reuters
- Luis Arce is the candidate of MAS, the party of Evo Morales. Arce was Evo’s minister of economics – in this position, he was responsible for nationalizing companies. During the campaign, he sought to distance himself from the most controversial aspects of Evo’s years – he said, for example, that he will not interfere in investigations against former MAS ministers.
- Carlos Mesa he was president of Bolivia between 2003 and 2005. He ran against Evo in the 2019 elections and came in second. He is considered a centrist.
- Luis Fernando Camacho is a far-right leader who led protests against Evo. He is from Santa Cruz, the most populous state.
There are other candidates, but they score little in the polls.
Arce has 33.6% of voters’ preference, followed by Mesa, with 26.8%, according to a survey by the organization Tu Voto Cuenta, carried out between 2 and 5 October. Camacho, in third, has 13.9% of the voting intentions.
Two right-wing candidates abandoned the race: interim president Jeanine Añez and Jorge Quiroga, who was also the country’s leader.
The two left the elections to avoid a first-round victory for Arce, Evo’s candidate. However, neither declared support for Mesa, the runner-up.
Some issues are central to the current power struggle in Bolivia:
- Evo Morales: The ex-president is in exile in Argentina. He is investigated by prosecutors for alleged crimes of a different nature – he denies them all. There are accusations of corruption, electoral fraud and sexual abuse. Mesa said that in his government, Evo would not go unpunished for his crimes (which have not yet been tried). Arce, an ally of the former president, signaled that he will facilitate the return of his ally.
Former Bolivian President Evo Morales during a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2019 – Photo: Reuters / Agustin Marcarian
- Coca policy: The coca leaf is a traditional culture in Bolivia. In the Evo years, farmers who plant the coca leaf were supported by the government, which ended the operations of US anti-drug agencies in the country. Both candidates say it is necessary to fight drugs. Arce says that traditional farming regions should be protected by law. Mesa says it is necessary to control legal production more.
Application of pesticides in a coca plantation in Bolivia – Photo: William Wroblewski / AFP
- Relations with the USA: During the Evo government, the relationship between Bolivia and the United States has cooled – there has been no American ambassador to Bolivia since 2008. Arce promised to “work with everyone”, and Mesa said there is no reason not to resume a full relationship with ambassadors , with the USA.
- Lithium: The mineral is used and batteries for electric vehicles. Bolivia has large reserves of the material, and they have been little explored. The two candidates signaled that they intend to change that. Mesa has already stated that he intends to turn the country into a global producer. Arce said he wants to industrialize lithium and create 130,000 direct and indirect jobs in this chain.
Understand the canceled elections of 2019
The vote to elect the next president is the second in a year. On October 20, 2019, Evo ran for the fourth time and came in first (Mesa, who now runs again, came in second). As he had more than 40% of the votes, he was considered the winner.
The initial result of the count indicated a second round, but there were interruptions in the count. After days of uncertainty, the process was resumed and Evo emerged as the winner.
Then protests against the results began.
On November 10, 2019, the Organization of American States (OAS) made public a report that pointed out that the elections had been rigged.
Evo canceled the results and called for new elections immediately. However, the action was not enough: under pressure from the military, he resigned and then fled the country. Initially, he went to Mexico and then went into exile in Argentina.
Subsequently, studies by U.S. research groups questioned the OAS claim that the 2019 elections were rigged.
Or interim government of Jeanine Añez
President Jeanine Áñez, during a speech – Photo: Government of Bolivia / Reproduction
A right-wing senator, Jeanine Añez, took the presidency on an interim basis. When she came to power, ancient texts from her on social media showed that she had said that the Aymara, indigenous peoples of Bolivia, practiced satanic rituals.
During her months in power, investigations of MAS leaders for terrorism were opened.
In May, his health minister was arrested for embezzling money that was to be used to buy respirators for Covid-19 patients.
Añez postponed the presidential elections twice.