Oct 19, 2020 - World

Socialists win Bolivia election one year after controversial Morales ouster

Arce (center, with badge) celebrates on election night. Photo: Javier Mamani/Getty Images

Leftist candidate Luis Arce won an "overwhelming and clear" victory in Bolivia's presidential election, his chief opponent said Monday in a concession speech.

Why it matters: Looming over Sunday's vote were the events of one year ago, when then-president Evo Morales was ousted and fled into exile following a disputed election. He was controversially succeeded by a right-wing senator, Jeanine Añez, deepening a political crisis which appears to have ended with an emphatic mandate for Morales' party, the Movement for Socialism.

Setting the scene: Arce had long led centrist former president Carlos Mesa in the polls, but needed either an outright majority or a 10% margin of victory to avoid a runoff.

  • Some feared a contested outcome that could further imperil Bolivia's democracy, given the polarization and sporadic violence of the past year.
  • The crisis began when official results in last year's election showed Morales barely clearing the 10% threshold to avoid a runoff, kicking off a chaotic period in which the Organization of American States said it found evidence of fraud, and Morales fled the country under pressure from the military — an outcome his supporters labeled a coup.
  • Añez was declared acting president under constitutionally questionable circumstances, and was accused of misusing her interim role to target the left and seek election herself (she dropped out in September out after polls showed her in fourth place).

The state of play: This time, the fight was effectively over as soon as polls closed.

  • While the official results haven't been declared, two independent exit polls showed Arce winning a convincing first-round victory. Añez acknowledged Arce's victory on election night and Mesa conceded the following day.

Between the lines: Arce is a far different figure from his charismatic former boss, who was seen by supporters as the founding father of a new Bolivia and by opponents as a would-be authoritarian.

  • Arce served as Morales' economy minister for 12 years, overseeing robust economic growth and earning a reputation as a pragmatic technocrat.
  • Arce distanced himself from Morales at times during the campaign, and his allies have insisted he will govern as his own man and not as a stand-in for the former president.
  • “I think the Bolivian people want to retake the path we were on,” he said at an election night event.
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