Bolivian President Jeanine Áñez, the second woman to hold the post, announced Thursday her withdrawal from the October 2020 presidential election.
Áñez became president in November following the resignation of Evo Morales, a socialist strongman who had occupied power for 13 years. Morales won an unconstitutional fourth term in the October 2019 presidential election after pressuring the nation’s top court to rule that presidential term limits violated his human rights. Morales resigned from power and fled to Mexico after the Organization of American States (OAS) published a report finding signs of fraud leading to Morales’ electoral victory.
Everyone under Morales in the line of succession belonging to his political party, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), also resigned and fled the country, leaving Áñez, a conservative senator, to take the post.
As president, Áñez has distanced Bolivia from Morales’ socialist allies, restored diplomatic relations with the United States, and filed a case against Morales at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. Áñez’s administration has also unearthed evidence that Morales may have engaged in several romantic relationships with underaged girls.
Áñez announced in a video Thursday that she would no longer seek the presidency of the country in the interest of keeping the MAS candidate, Luis Arce, from winning the election as a result of a divided anti-socialist vote.
“Today I withdraw from candidacy to the presidency of Bolivia to safeguard democracy. It is not a sacrifice, it is an honor,” Áñez said in the video, posted to her Facebook account.
Áñez explained that she was stepping aside “before the risk that the democratic vote will be divided among several candidates and that, thanks to that division, the MAS will win the election.”
“If we do not unite, Morales returns. If we don’t unite, democracy loses. If we do not unite, dictatorship wins,” Áñez emphasized. “In sum, I step aside today in homage to freedom and democracy. What is at play in this election is no small thing. Democracy in Bolivia is at play. We have to set aside differences between those of us Bolivians who love democracy and we need to construct shoulder to shoulder, with courage and unity, the freedom that Bolivia and our children need.”
Áñez did not endorse any candidate in particular.
Recent polls suggest that the socialist vote is far less divided than those opposed to the return of MAS to power. A poll released Wednesday found that Arce, the MAS candidate, enjoys support from 40.3 percent of respondents. Carlos Mesa – a center-left former president who ran in the disputed 2019 election against Morales – received the second-highest amount of support from 26.2 percent of respondents. Áñez came in third with 10.6 percent.
In Bolivia, a candidate can only win the presidency by securing 40 percent of the vote. Receiving less than 40 percent of the vote triggers a second runoff election between the top two candidates. Áñez withdrawing from the election, then, could prevent Arce from winning outright and, by default, consolidate the anti-MAS vote in a run-off.
Áñez peaked in poll support at 18 percent, Bolivian newspaper Página Siete noted on Friday, and lost some support because she had initially said she would not run for election as president in the elections that she had received a mandate to organize as a re-do of the October 2019 debacle.
Mesa issued a statement Friday applauding Áñez for stepping aside.
“I appreciate the decision President Jeanine Áñez made as a contribution to democracy,” Mesa said. “We are always open to dialogue. The decision to close off the path to victory to the MAS and open a new era, where the people come first, will always be the choice of the Bolivian people.”
Morales himself – writing from Argentina, where the socialist government has granted him political asylum – condemned Áñez in remarks on Twitter on Friday.
“Before the intent to unite by the right, the authors of 20 years of neoliberalism, we ask for greater unity from the working class, middle class, and businessmen with the only political movement with a vision for the country and the experience governing to guarantee an exit from the economic crisis,” Morales wrote, referring to a recent economic decline triggered in part by the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
Morales referred to Áñez’s withdrawal from the election as a “double betrayal, against her supporters and the [other] candidates” and implied that she had retired from the race in exchange for a backdoor “impunity” deal with the other candidates.
Morales refuses to return to Bolivia in light of multiple legal proceedings against him for alleged crimes committing both during his tenure and after his flight. Áñez’s administration filed a case against Morales at The Hague in December claiming that he had committed “crimes against humanity” by using mobs of his far-left supporters to terrorize Bolivians into demanding his return. Among the evidence presented was audio that Bolivian authorities claimed was of Morales telling a labor union leader, “don’t let food into the cities,” urging a manual blockade to starve civilians into opposing Áñez.
Morales had publicly called for terrorist violence in Bolivia following his abandoning of the presidency.
“In a short time, I don’t know if I’d go back or somebody goes back, we have to organize, like in Venezuela, people’s armed militias,” Morales said in an interview in January. In socialist Venezuela, which Morales made an ally of during his tenure, late dictator Hugo Chávez and successor Nicolás Maduro use colectivos, or armed terrorist gangs, to kill and injure political dissidents.
In August, Bolivian officials confirmed that they were investigating accusations against Morales for engaging in sex with minors. Specifically, Bolivian authorities found an authentic birth certificate for a baby born to a 16-year-old in 2016 that listed Morales as the father. Morales would have been 56 at the time of the infant’s birth. Prosecutors are attempting to find the reason for Morales’ appearance on the certificate.