Jeanine Anez, the head of Bolivia’s Senate, declared herself interim president of Bolivia in Congress on Tuesday despite a lack of a quorum to appoint her in a legislative session that was boycotted by legislators from former President Evo Morales‘ left-wing party.
“Before the definitive absence of the president and vice president … as the president of the Chamber of Senators, I immediately assume the presidency as foreseen in the constitutional order,” Anez, a right-wing opponent of Morales, said to applause from opposition lawmakers.
It was unclear if the move would quell unrest in the highland capital, La Paz, and other cities unleashed by Morales’ disputed bid for a fourth term. Video footage on Tuesday showed police battling Morales supporters in the city of Cochabamba and masked protesters calling for civil war.
Morales, who sought to transform Bolivia as its first indigenous president, landed in Mexico on Tuesday pledging to keep up his political “fight” after resigning in the wake of mass protests over the disputed October 20 election.
Morales called Anez’s move to replace him part of “the most cunning and disastrous coup in history” while a senator from his party called for protests starting on Tuesday until he returns to finish his mandate in January.
Military fighter jets flew repeatedly over La Paz in a show of force that infuriated Morales loyalists who were blocked by security forces from marching to the city’s main square.
“We’re not afraid!” shouted demonstrators, who believe Morales’ removal was not only a coup d’etat but also an act of discrimination against Bolivia’s indigenous communities.
A supporter of Bolivia’s deposed President Evo Morales waves a Wiphala flag during a protest in La Paz. [Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]
“Evo was like a father to me. We had a voice, we had rights,” said 35-year-old Maria Apasa. Like Morales, she is a member of the Aymara indigenous group.
The march followed weeks of clashes and protests against Morales, who was accused by his many detractors of becoming increasingly authoritarian and rigging an election. His resignation on Sunday led to a power vacuum in the Andean nation.
Morales was met at Mexico City’s airport by Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard after a flight from Bolivia on a Mexican government plane.
On his arrival, he repeated allegations he had been forced to resign by a coup.
“The president of Mexico saved my life,” Morales said, thanking President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador for granting him asylum. He promised to “continue the struggle.”
Ebrard said Mexican diplomats had to scramble to arrange a flight path for the plane because some nations initially closed their airspace. The plane stopped in Paraguay to refuel.
Urged to resign by the military, Morales had stepped down following widespread outrage fed by allegations of electoral fraud in the October election – including a sudden halt to the quick count – that he claimed to have won.
Resignations by all other constitutionally-designated successors left unclear who would take his place and how.
A lone legislator in the Bolivian Congress. Although Anez declared herself interim president the session was suspended because it did not have a quorum. [Manuel Claure/Reuters]
Anez had positioned herself to become interim president by taking temporary control of the Senate and moving into a spot to succeed to the presidency.
Morales’ resignation still needed to be approved by both houses of Congress.
And legislators failed to get the quorum for an assembly session on Tuesday. Anez also needed to be approved as president of the Senate, but she said that legislators loyal to Morales declined to be part of the session and that Bolivia could not be left in a power vacuum.
Morales’ departure was a dramatic fall for the one-time llama shepherd from the Bolivian highlands and former coca growers’ union leader who as president helped lift millions out poverty, increased social rights and presided more than nearly 14 years of stability and high economic growth in South America’s poorest country.
In the end, however, his downfall was prompted by his insistence on holding onto power.
Morales ran for a fourth term after refusing to accept the results of a referendum that upheld term limits for the president – restrictions that were later overturned by a top court that critics contend was stacked in his favour.
Morales stepped aside shortly after accepting calls for a new election by the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS monitoring team reported irregularities in the election whose official results showed Morales getting just enough votes to avoid a runoff that analysts said he could lose against a united opposition.
After Morales resigned, angry supporters set barricades ablaze to close some roads leading to the country’s main airport on Monday, while his foes blocked most of the streets leading to the capital’s main square in front of Congress and the presidential palace.
Street tensions eased after General Williams Kaliman, chief of the armed forces, announced a joint police-military operation in a television address. He said the hope was to “avoid bloodshed and mourning of the Bolivian family,” and he urged Bolivians to help restore peace.
Bolivia’s former President Evo Morales went into exile in Mexico. [Pedro Pardo/AFP]