Bolivian President Evo Morales Calls for New Election after Deadly Protests

Evo Morales

Under mounting pressure, Bolivian President Evo Morales on Sunday called for a new election after his claim to have won a fourth term triggered suspicions of fraud and set off deadly protests.

South America’s longest-serving leader made the announcement after a preliminary report by the Organization of American States (OAS) found a “heap of observed irregularities” in the Oct. 20 presidential contest and said a new vote should be held.

The unrest that has left three people dead and over 100 injured in clashes between supporters and opponents of Morales represents the biggest crisis in his nearly 14 years in power.

Without mentioning the OAS report, the socialist leader said he would replace the country’s electoral tribunal and urged all political parties to help bring peace to the Andean nation.

“We all have to pacify Bolivia,” he said.

Bolivians honked car horns and broke into cheers and applause in the streets as the OAS findings came out.

The man Morales claimed to have defeated, opposition leader and former President Carlos Mesa, said the OAS report showed “monstrous fraud,” and he added that Morales “can’t be a candidate in new elections.”

Morales did not say whether he would run again.

“The priority is to choose a new electoral tribunal and figure out when we’ll have the new elections,” he told local radio Panamericana.

Morales, 60, became the first president from Bolivia’s indigenous population in 2006 and easily won two more elections amid a commodities-fed economic boom in South America’s poorest country. The former leader of a coca growers union, he paved roads, sent Bolivia’s first satellite into space and curbed inflation.

But many who were once excited by his fairy-tale rise have grown wary of his reluctance to leave power.

He ran for a fourth term after refusing to abide by the results of a referendum that upheld term limits for the president. He was able to run because Bolivia’s constitutional court disallowed such limits.

After the Oct. 20 vote, Morales declared himself the outright winner even before official results indicated he had obtained just enough support to avoid a runoff with Mesa. A 24-hour lapse in releasing results raised suspicions of vote-rigging.

The OAS sent a team to conduct what it called a binding audit of the election. Its preliminary recommendations included holding new elections with a new electoral body.

“Mindful of the heap of observed irregularities, it’s not possible to guarantee the integrity of the numbers and give certainty of the results,” the OAS said in a statement released by its president, Luis Almagro, on Twitter.

Pressure on Morales increased ominously Saturday when police guards outside Bolivia’s presidential palace abandoned their posts. Morales was not at the palace at the time.

Officers also climbed onto the roof of a nearby police station, holding signs proclaiming, “The Police with the People.” Police retreated to their barracks in at least three cities.