The deputy speaker of the Senate, Jeanine Áñez Chávez, became president of Bolivia late Tuesday following the resignation of socialist President Evo Morales and everyone else above Áñez in the line of succession.
Unlike those who resigned, who were socialists like Morales, Áñez is a staunch conservative and entered the presidential estate, the Burned Palace, holding up an oversized copy of the four Gospels. She took over the country after over 50 hours of having neither a president nor any executive in power.
Morales, vice president Álvaro García Linera, and nearly 50 other members of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party stepped down on Sunday following the Organization of American States’ (OAS) publication of a report revealing widespread irregularities in the October 20 election that granted Morales an unconstitutional fourth term.
Those who supported Morales overriding constitutional term limits to remain in office indefinitely have also alleged that Áñez “proclaimed herself” president of the country, despite her taking office following the line of succession in the Bolivian constitution. Morales himself called his voluntary resignation a “coup” and claimed political opponents had organized a conspiracy to assassinate him in remarks from Mexico on Tuesday.
The Bolivian Senate attempted to hold a session Tuesday to resolve the issue of the country not having a president, but Senators from the MAS party refused to appear and forced a failed quorum. According to Bolivian newspaper El Deber, Morales himself called senators to order them not to attend the session as their job requires. Senate leaders held an emergency session, anyway, given the gravity of the country not having a president, and found that Áñez was the legitimate successor to Morales given the resignations of the vice president, Speaker of the House Victor Borda, and Senate President Adriana Salvatierra.
The Senate brought the issue of appointing Áñez interim president to the Plurinational Constitutional Court (TCP), the highest court for arbitrating constitutional issues in Bolivia, which found that the constitution clearly named the Senate vice president as the next in line to the presidency if the three other offices are vacant.
Áñez has been a senator representing her native Beni since 2010, elected as part of the Progress Plan for Bolivia – National Convergence (PPB-CN), a coalition of conservative, religious, and capitalist parties. She has prioritized bringing the Catholic Church back into the fold of the government following the 13-year rule of Morales’ socialist coalition and fighting the growing international left that Morales allied with, including the regimes governing Cuba, Venezuela, China, and Russia.
The interim president entered the Burned Palace alongside her children, representatives of the Catholic Church, and military leaders, who dressed her in the traditional presidential sash and medal.
In an impromptu address at the presidential palace, Áñez called for a moment of silence for the seven dead in mob attacks and protests since the fraudulent October 20 elections. She then called for unity and an end to the violence that has engulfed Bolivia since Morales resigned, which has included attacks on at least a dozen homes of local and national political figures, including Morales himself.
Áñez opened her statement by thanking her mother, “who like many mothers and many of you, have been very concerned.” She then called for an end to socialist-led riots in Bolivia’s major cities.
“The indigenous brothers join us, the peasant brothers join us, the churches join us, because that is what Bolivia wants, to live in peace, to live in democracy, to live in freedom,” Áñez said. “We bet on them and we risk for them. Yes we could!”
Following her ascent to the presidency and greeting a crowd in La Paz, Áñez addressed the world in an interview with CNN en Español.
“President Morales left because he wanted to, because he didn’t dare answer to the country, it was an act of cowardice,” she told the network. “Now he is in Mexico pretending to be a victim and wanting to fool the whole world, saying that what happened in Bolivia was a coup.”
Áñez called the claim of a coup “as false as the elections” that kept Morales in power.
“Evo Morales is a scammer of democracy,” she continued. “He has stolen our votes and this is the result. What happened here was by necessity, because of urgency. Since we didn’t want more vandalism in the streets, we enacted a constitutional succession. … There cannot be the absence of the state.”
Áñez said her top priority as president is to organize new elections.
The OAS and the government of the United States have accepted the legitimacy of Áñez’s presidency.
“Acting Senate President Añez has assumed responsibilities of Interim Constitutional President of Bolivia. We look forward to working with her & Bolivia’s other civilian authorities as they arrange free & fair elections as soon as possible, in accordance w/ Bolivia’s constitution,” Acting Assistant Secretary for U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs said in a statement on Twitter.
Socialists in La Paz and El Alto, a longtime Morales stronghold, have vandalized businesses and burned down the homes of politicians throughout the week. Morales opponents have also participated in the rioting, looting the homes of Morales and his sister as well as several other members of Congress.