Deager Ticona Mamani felt despair and encouragement when Evo Morales was forced out of his Andean homeland last November amid civil unrest, electoral breakdown and what supporters of Bolivia’s first indigenous president called a racist, right – wing coup.
“I cried,” recalled the 56-year-old lawyer, a staunch supporter of Morales and his Movimiento al Socialismo (Mas).
“Evo represents the rebirth of Bolivia’s indigenous people. He gave us back our confidence, our pride in being natives, having original surnames, our food … Evo Morales was Bolivia’s best president ever. ”
With Morales sentenced to exile – first in Mexico, now Argentina – believers like Mamani were left politically orphaned and the masses in disarray.
Jeanine Áñez, a right-wing senator who once branded Bolivia’s indigenous people as “satanic”, took power as vice president and brought a sudden and shocking end to nearly 14 years of left-wing rule, which the country long excluded original (indigenous people) finally took center stage.
Activists have since accused Áñez’s government of using the justice system to conduct a politically motivated witch hunt against Morales and his allies.
But almost 12 months after last year’s convulsion, Morales’ move against socialism could be drawing a sensational political comeback in Sunday’s twice-postponed presidential election.
The vote is a resumption of the condemned election in October 2019, which was canceled after burning allegations of electoral fraud by the Organization of American States (OAS) drove protests and saw Morales withdraw under pressure from the security forces.
Opinion polls suggest the Mas candidate, Morales’ British-educated former finance minister Luis Arce, has the edge over his main challenger, a centrist journalist and former president named Carlos Mesa.
“The [Mas] is in the driver’s seat, and if they can mobilize voters this weekend – and they are the only party with the capacity to do so – they could do very well, ”said Eduardo Gamarra, a Bolivia expert at Florida International University.
Gamarra thought another round – which the 67-year-old Mesa would likely win – was the most likely prospect. If no candidate obtains a full majority or 40% of the vote with 10% breathing, a run-off will be held on November 29th. The third major candidate is Luis Fernando Camacho from the new right-wing Creemos (“We Believe”) alliance. Áñez withdrew her candidacy last month, saying she did not want to split the Conservative vote.
But because Morales’ rivals had “nebulized” the anti-mas vote, it was not far off to imagine that Arce, a mildly career official who boasts a master’s degree from the University of Warwick, might win at first. to ask .
“There may be a scenario where the masks essentially continue where they left off, only with Luis Arce as president,” Gamarra said.
Arce spoke of this possibility on Wednesday at his last campaign rally – a festive celebration of flags waving and dancing in El Alto, a bastion of Morales support over the de facto capital La Paz.
“They thought they would kill the movement against socialism. But we are here in El Alto to tell them, ‘We are here and we live!’ “, Told the 57-year-old candidate to supporters dressed in the group’s blue, white and black colors.
“The right robbed the people and has shown their inability to govern,” Arce added, citing allegations that Áñez and her cabinet had seized power illegally and spared the reaction to Covid-19, which has killed thousands of Bolivians.
Mamani was also hoping for a victory in the first round and believed that Arce could “restart” Bolivia.
But like many Mas voters, he feared that “a monumental fraud” was boiled up with the support of the United States and the OAS, whose controversial allegations of voting in last year’s election played a key role in forcing Morales abroad.
This week, a senior State Department official maintained Morales’ claim to have won the 2019 election was “the product of massive fraud” and suggested support for an Arce presidency was not completely assured.
“We look forward to working with whom the Bolivians freely and justly choose to be their president,” the official told reporters, praising the protesters who rose up against Morales last year for “defending their democracy.”
If the prospect of a socialist revival has it Masister overjoyed, it is a nightmare for Morales’ opponents, who regard him as a power-hungry authoritarian bound to cling to power and destroy Bolivian democracy.
Morale’s bid to secure an unprecedented fourth straight term last year came despite voters denying him that right in a 2016 referendum, the result of which he ignored.
Libertad Gabriela Vaca Poehlmann, president of an opposition group called Unidos en Acción (United in Action), recalled his excitement when the former president fled to Mexico City on November 10 last year.
“I was relieved. I felt hope. I felt free, “said Poehlmann, 45, one of thousands of citizens who took to the streets of Bolivia last year to put pressure on Morales.
Twelve months later, she worried that his movement might mount what had once seemed like an unlikely comeback, urging voters to back the candidate they felt was best placed to prevent it. “If Mas came back … it would be terrible for the country. As the saying goes, ‘People get the governors they deserve,’ “Poehlmann said.
Foreign diplomats and voters on both sides fear that another disputed outcome could lead to a repeat of last year’s violence, as at least 36 people, most of them Mas supporters, lost their lives. And tensions have built up ahead of the referendum with reports of paramilitary groups attacking Mas activists, and some panicked citizens have reportedly stored food in anticipation of possible unrest.
Observers are confident Morales will try to return to Bolivia and possibly front-line politics if Arce wins.
“He is a political animal. His whole life is about politics. So he will try to come back and there may be some tension, ”said Diego von Vacano, a Bolivian politician at Texas A&M University. “But for the benefit of the party … I think Evo might be playing a slightly more symbolic role as opposed to a more active commanding role,” he added.
Vacano denied that Arce was merely a clerk for Morales, who was put under investigation for alleged terrorist acts by Bolivia’s conservative deputy chiefs and is barred from driving himself.
“Arce is not a puppet,” insisted the academic, who has informally advised the candidate’s campaign. “He is aware that Evo is the historical leader of Mas. But this is a new period and it requires a different approach. He has been pretty clear that he wants to do it his own way. ”
Mamani said he also hoped the former president would resign, despite his devotion to Morales and the commodity-driven social and economic progress he oversaw after his historic 2005 election.
“We have to see the rotation of power. No matter how good a leader is, they should not remain in power permanently. You need change. ”
“He spent 14 years working. Saturdays, Sundays, public holidays. From kl. 5 to midnight, ”Mamani said of Morales. “It’s time for him to rest.”