Jeanine Áñez, the “interim President” of Bolivia who came to power after ex-president Evo Morales was forced out in a military-parliamentary coup in November announced on Friday she is running for president in the May 3 elections.
In a stunning reversal of positions after repeatedly stating she would not run, the 52-year-old former lawyer and television presenter said that although “it was not in my plans to participate in these elections, in recent weeks we have been trying to build a consensus and have not achieved one.”
The May elections will be a re-run of the October elections in which Evo Morales, as candidate of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party, won in the first round with over 47 percent of the vote. Áñez’s party, Movimiento Demócrata Social (Social Democrat Movement), won 4.2 percent of the vote.
Despite presenting no definitive proof of electoral fraud, the Organisation of American States (OAS) released a damning report in the aftermath of the result appealing for its nullification and for new elections to be held.
After two main unions, the Bolivian Workers’ Central (COB) and the Single Trade Union Confederation of Workers (CSUTCB), two traditional allies of Morales, pulled their support for him, pressure drastically increased. Hours later, the head of the armed forces “suggested” that Morales resign. Along with the Vice President, Álvaro García Linera, Morales resigned and fled to Mexico.
Áñez, who was a little-known senator at the time of the coup and Second Vice President of the Senate, invoked the constitution to assume the “interim Presidency.” She argued the presidency fell to her because the Vice President, President of the Lower Chamber, President of the Senate and First Vice President of the Senate all resigned from their positions.
However, senior MAS figures were under extreme pressure from the military and violent right-wing groups to resign from their positions. This pressure even included kidnappings of family members and the torching of houses. Even Evo Morales’ sister had her house burnt down.
Since coming to power, Áñez has drastically militarised the country using the armed forces and police to lethally repress protesters, which have resulted in over 30 deaths so far. Her “interim Presidency” has been highly criticised for at least two massacres at the hands of the armed forces, as well as for passing a law that was later repealed granting immunity to security forces to use violence against protesters.
Despite being a self-declared “interim government,” Áñez has significantly re-aligned the country’s foreign policy towards the U.S. Not only has she withdrawn Bolivia’s membership in a number of regional bodies, she has re-established diplomatic relations with Israel and the U.S. and recognised Juan Guaidó as “interim President” of Venezuela.
Her “de facto government” has also sought to silence criticism. “Interim Interior Minister,” Arturo Murillo, has on numerous occasions threatened to “hunt down” former MAS officials and critical journalists.
Additionally, he has on various occasions attempted to have Morales arrested, even recently stating, if Morales “returns to the country, let him come, he has a cell with his name on it in Chonchocoro, where all terrorists should be.”
It remains highly doubtful that under such circumstances Bolivia can have free and fair elections.
The MAS, for its part, announced its presidential ticket on Sunday. Announcing the decision from Buenos Aires where he is currently living in exile, Morales, who still remains the undisputed moral and symbolic leader of the party, told supporters that his former Finance Minister, Luis Arce, and former Foreign Minister, David Choquehuanca, would be the presidential and vice-presidential candidate respectively.
Arce is a UK-educated economist, credited with overseeing the economic policies of the 14-year Morales administration which brought unrivalled growth rates within the region and significant improvements on many social indicators including poverty reduction.
Choquehuanca, who served for 11 years as Foreign Minister under Morales, is an indigenous activist who comes from a peasant background, he was a preferred candidate of the rank-and-file MAS members.
In the decision to go with Choquehuanca, Morales said “the indigenous componente is important. David Choquehuanca is a brother with a doctorate in indigenous issues (and) in issues of Mother Earth. He is a combination of scientific, economic and original knowledge.”
The combination of Arce and Choquehuanca is seen as a “safe choice” that can gain the support of the more moderate middle classes as well as of the majority indigenous population.