Anti-socialist protesters in Bolivia set fire to the country’s electoral commission headquarters on Tuesday after far-left leader Evo Morales headed to victory after what opponents argued as a “rigged” presidential election.
Protesters claim that Bolivia’s electoral authorities manipulated the vote count in favor of Morales, who is headed to a fourth term in office three years after he successfully amended the country’s constitution in order to scrap term limits.
On Monday night, protesters raided and set fire to two Electoral Tribunal buildings in several Bolivian cities, forcing two people to jump from the buildings. A separate group of demonstrators also burned a ballot box in the middle of the street in the southern city of Tarija.
Three people were reported injured during the clashes, which remain ongoing across nine cities. Morales has called a state of emergency across the country.
Suspicions of vote manipulation emerged on Sunday after the official electoral board, Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), suddenly halted an electronic quick count for 24 hours as it showed Morales and his opponent Carlos Mesa were likely headed to second round run-off, with 84 percent of the votes tallied.
Violent protests have erupted in at least nine cities in Bolivia, amid ongoing confusion about the result of Sunday's presidential election
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) October 22, 2019
After counting resumed, Morales suddenly held a ten-point lead, sparking suspicion from opponents and international election observers about such an irregularity. He has since gone on to claim victory and plans to stay on as leader after nearly 14 years in power.
Opposition candidate Carlos Mesa, who himself comes from the left-wing but anti-Morales party known as the Revolutionary Left Front, joined protesters on Tuesday to demand the restoration of democracy crowds chanted: “No dictatorship. Yes to democracy. We are not afraid.”
“Right now, a few meters from us, an enormous fraud is being committed to make us think there won’t be a second-round vote,” Mesa told crowds in reference to the electoral board. “They’re lying to the country and turning their backs on your vote!”
A mysteriously delayed vote count in Bolivia's presidential election has sparked protests and accusations of fraud.
President Morales looked close to securing a 4th term after the vote count resumed pic.twitter.com/oONF1P7J5e
— Bloomberg TicToc (@tictoc) October 23, 2019
The Organization of American States (OAS) has since expressed its “deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results revealed” after counting was suspended on Sunday. On Tuesday, Morales met with a delegation of OAS members and European Union officials to discuss the results.
“We had a very productive meeting with observers, diplomatic delegations and the European Union and the OAS to listen and respond to their concerns,” he wrote on Twitter following the meeting. “We reiterate the invitation for you to exercise the entire vote calculation process, minute by minute, with all the guarantees.”
Tuvimos una reunión muy productiva con observadores, delegaciones diplomáticas y de la Unión Europea y la OEA para escuchar y responder a sus preocupaciones. Les reiteramos la invitación a que fiscalicen todo el proceso de cómputo de votos, acta por acta, con todas las garantías. pic.twitter.com/a1md12HFpE
— Evo Morales Ayma (@evoespueblo) October 22, 2019
The protests are reminiscent of a similar power struggle taking place in Venezuela, where millions of people have taken to the streets in recent years to protest against the ruling socialist regime. Dictator Nicolás Maduro successfully rigged last year’s presidential elections to stay in power, using the military to keep legitimate President Juan Guaidó from being able to exercise his power. A committed socialist and anti-imperialist, Morales maintains strong relations with the Maduro regime, as well as other authoritarian dictatorships including Cuba, Iran, and China.