Luis Arce’s Victory in Bolivia Buries Fraud Allegations, Ends 12 months of Coup Government

Bolivia’s indigenous-led Movement to Socialism (MAS) has won Sunday’s follow-up to the disputed election of October 2019. In so convincingly defeating its centre-right and far-right rivals, the result has further exposed the murky role of the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS) in claiming MAS’s 2019 victory was the result of fraud.

By Sunday night (4pm Monday AEDST), MAS candidate Luis Arce had won 52% of the vote with 90% counted. Centre-right and far-right opponents Carlos Mesa and Luis Camacho won 31% and 14% respectively.

Luis Arce celebrates election victory in Bolivia.

The result comes 12 months after Evo Morales, who became Bolivia’s first indigenous president in 2006, won 47% of the primary vote for MAS in a nine-candidate field in the 2019 elections, but was then forced to resign by the police and the military following protests.

Over 40% of the vote and a lead of more than 10% over the second-place candidate would have meant a first-round victory, but a lead of any less than 10% meant a one-on-one, run-off election combining the opposition vote behind Carlos Mesa.

When the unofficial pre-count count showed Morales leading Mesa by 7.9% on the night of the election, but the official count had the lead at 10.5% the next day, the opposition took to the streets. In the piedmont, right-wing heartland of Santa Cruz, roads were blocked and MAS offices burned. In some cases, indigenous Bolivians were mobbed, publicly humiliated, and had their heads shaved. 

Supporters argued that the trend to Morales over the course of the night simply reflected the fact that ballots from rural, majority-indigenous municipalities were slower to arrive, but the opposition claimed electoral fraud. Then, at the height of the crisis in November, the OAS reported “preliminary findings” of “clear manipulations” of the vote, and claimed in December there was “overwhelming evidence” of vote-rigging. 

Morales was ultimately forced out, with some MAS leaders arrested and others forced to seek asylum in Mexico. One analyst called the OAS claims “the main political foundation of the coup.” 

A caretaker government promised to merely supervise new elections, but then invited far-right leader Luis Camacho into the palace, where an exorcism was held and a priest proclaimed, “The Bible has entered the palace. Pachamama will never return.” Rallies in support of MAS were met with gunfire.

All the while, the OAS finding was being widely and uncritically reported in the Anglophone press, despite the Latin American left having for over a decade disputed the neutrality of the Washington-based forum (and sought to create their own, CELAC, excluding the US and Canada). 

The fraud allegation was soon found to be baseless. Over 100 academics signed a letter calling on the OAS to retract its statement. The OAS allegations were finally questioned by The Washington Post in February and The New York Times in June. And now, with MAS having been removed from the levers of power, they have won the new elections by even more.

Bolivians have undoubtedly suffered under a year of undemocratic government. But the election fiasco also shines a light, if any were needed, on the ongoing disintegration of US global leadership under a far-right White House.

Title image of Bolivian public housing sourced from: