Bolivia crisis: Power vacuum follows Morales' resignation

Monday, November 11, 2019 - 12:00

Tension are high in Bolivia following the resignation of the president, Evo Morales, after weeks of protest over a disputed election.

Mr Morales stepped down after the head of the army publicly called on him to leave his post.

The deputy head of the Senate said she would take over as interim president until new elections were held.

Critics of Mr Morales celebrated his departure from office but there have also been incidents of looting.

On Monday, Mr Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous leader, struck a defiant note on Twitter, saying that he "would never abandon his Bolivian brothers and sisters".


Who's in charge?

That is not entirely clear at this point, adding to the volatile nature of the situation. The deputy leader of the Senate, Jeanine Áñez, said she would assume power as interim leader until elections were held.

Carlos Mesa reacts after Bolivia's President Evo Morales announced his resignationCarlos Mesa, who came second in the election on 20 October, wants fresh elections as soon as possible (Copyright REUTERS)


Ms Áñez made the announcement after Vice-President Álvaro García, Senate leader Adriana Salvatierra and House of Deputies' leader Victor Borda had all resigned, leaving her next in line to take over power temporarily.

"I assume this challenge with the only objective to call new elections," she said. "This is simply a transitional phase."

The opposition politician said she would convene the legislative assembly later on Monday to be confirmed as interim president.

But with Mr Morales' party in control of both the Senate and the House of Deputies it is not clear if she will get the necessary backing from legislators.

Under Bolivia's constitution, whoever takes over as interim president has 90 days to call fresh elections.

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Power vacuum

Analysis box by Katy Watson, South America correspondent

The biggest criticism of Evo Morales was his lack of respect for Bolivia's democracy - accused of overstaying his welcome and refusing to step down.

But the fact that the military has called the shots on the president standing down does not do much for Bolivia's democracy either.

Now Evo Morales has gone, there is a power vacuum. Increasing numbers of his Mas party are resigning, and it feels like there is a need for retribution - for Evo Morales and his people to pay the price for the mistakes they made while in power.

His supporters have called this a coup - his detractors the end of tyranny. The priority now is to choose an interim leader, call new elections and bring a polarised Bolivia together or face yet more unrest and violence in the coming weeks.

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How did Bolivia get here?




Mr Morales, who had been in power for almost 14 years, announced his resignation on Sunday in a televised address to the nation.

He said that he had taken the decision in order to stop fellow socialist leaders from being "harassed, persecuted and threatened", referring to weeks of protests which have seen his supporters and his opponents facing off in sometimes violent clashes.

He described his removal from power as "a coup" while his opponents described it as a "victory of the people".

Reports say Mr Morales made the announcement of his resignation from El Chapare, a coca-growing rural area of Cochabamba and a bastion of support for him and his Mas party.

Evo Morales at the  United Nations in New York on 24 September, 2019.
Evo Morales


  • 13 years, 9 monthsin power

  • 38 yearsleading the coca growers' union

  • 54%of the votes won in 2005 election

  • 64%of the votes won in 2009 election

  • 61%of votes won in 2014 election

Source: BBC Monitoring

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What led to his resignation?

Pressure had been growing on Mr Morales since a presidential election on 20 October. Tensions first flared after the results count was inexplicably paused for 24 hours.

The final result gave Mr Morales slightly more than the 10% lead he needed to win outright, giving him a fourth consecutive term.

On Sunday, the Organization of American States (OAS), a regional body, announced that its audit of the election found "clear manipulation" and called for the result to be annulled.

In response, Mr Morales agreed to replace the electoral authorities and to hold fresh elections. But his main rival, Carlos Mesa - who came second in the vote - said Mr Morales should not stand in a new election.

But what really seemed to tip the balance was the intervention of the chief of the armed forces, General Williams Kaliman.

The general urged Mr Morales to step down in the interests of peace and stability.

A number of Mr Morales' close allies then announced their resignations, further heaping pressure on the president, triggering his resignation.

Grab taken from a handout video released by ATB showing the commander in chief of the Armed Forces, Williams Kaliman (C-bottom), speaking in a televised address from La Paz, on November 10, 2019.General Kaliman (centre bottom row) urged Mr Morales to step down (Copyright AFP)


What has been the reaction?

Opponents of Mr Morales took to the streets to celebrate, setting off fireworks and waving Bolivian flags.

Luis Fernando Camacho greets supporters from a police car in La Paz, Bolivia, November 10, 2019.One of Mr Morales' most vocal critics, Luis Fernando Camacho took to the streets of La Paz with a flag (Copyright REUTERS)


A police officer holds a crucifix among comrades and people taking to the streets of Santa Cruz to celebrate the resignation of Bolivian President Evo Morales on November 10, 2019.Police officers also joined in the celebrations in the opposition stronghold of Santa Cruz (Copyright AFP)


But there were also instances of looting and 15 buses were set alight in the main city, La Paz. The houses of opposition politicians as well as that of Mr Morales reportedly came under attack.

Both Mr Morales and Mr Mesa have called for an end to the violence.

Allies of Mr Morales echoed his description of events as a coup. The Russian foreign ministry released a statement saying that "the wave of violence unleashed by opposition didn't allow the presidential mandate of Evo Morales to be completed".

The Cuban president, Miguel Díaz Canel, tweeted [in Spanish] that what had happened was "a violent and cowardly coup d'etat against democracy in Bolivia by the right".

Socialist-led countries Nicaragua and Venezuela also expressed solidarity. Uruguay expressed its concern and Mexico said it would offer asylum to Mr Morales should he seek it. More than 20 officials and lawmakers from the governing party have sought refuge in the residence of the Mexican ambassador in La Paz.


Supporters of Bolivia's President Evo Morales block a street in La Paz, Bolivia, November 10, 2019. REUTERSSupporters of Mr Morales blockaded streets to show their discontent (Copyright REUTERS)


Story content and images courtesy BBC NEWS

Lead image caption: Opposition supporters celebrated the resignation of Mr Morales