- + Bolivia’s interim president drops out of presidential race days before elections.
- + Opposition fragmentation threatens chance of right-wing presidency after 13 years.
- + The resurgence of ethnic tensions prove to be a divisive point.
Why is Jeanine Áñez’s heat level Chilly?
Answer: Because divisions in Bolivia’s politics are stronger than ever.
In January 2020 Jeanine Áñez announced her candidacy for the 2020 elections. After months of dealing with reignited ethnic tensions for ousting the first indigenous president, and dealing with party divisions, she thought it was in Bolivia’s best interest to unite the opposition’s vote in order to avoid another leftist president. However, on September 17, almost a month prior to the election, she dropped out of the race for the “common good”.
Bolivia’s political crisis deepened after the announced victory of Evo Morales in the first round of the presidential election in 2019. Protests began over allegations of fraud, later confirmed by the Organization of American States. On November 10th, high military officials finally “suggested” the president’s resignation.
Hours after the uprising, the president abdicated. Alongside him, Bolivia saw the resignation of the Vice president, Senate President, and the leader of the Chamber of Deputies of the Congress. In the midst of this power vacuum, the Vice president of Bolivia’s Senate, Jeanine Áñez, was next in the line of succession.
Days after Áñez promised an inclusive government she revealed her cabinet, and representation was nowhere to be seen. This led to protests all over the country. Juan Acume, a former farmer, stated: “We feel threatened…they don’t represent us; they reject us, the Indigenous.” The issue went from merely left-right divisions to also include the ethnic tensions that became clear in Morales’ years as president. Tensions he was accused of exploiting to incite polarization on the basis of race.
Soon after, Jeanine Áñez signed decree 4078, which gave the Armed Forces freedom of action until effective control and stability were achieved. This move aggravated the Bolivian public and did not contribute to her already disputed legitimacy. However, public opinion remained positive as it was congruent with her initial statement regarding the preservation of stability. After all, Áñez pledged to guide the country to new elections and nothing more, even claiming that she had no plans of exploiting her recent political exposure.
While Áñez struggled to keep the peace on the streets of Bolivia, tensions kept rising within the “opposition”, the parties against Evo Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), as they remained unable to decide who would lead the coalition against MAS in the upcoming elections.
In October 2020, MAS candidate Luis Arce won the elections in the first round with 54.08 % of the votes. Former president Carlos Mesa and Luis Fernando Camacho still managed to divide the opposition with 29.49% and 14.32% respectively, despite the efforts from interim president Áñez.
Who is changing Áñez’s temperature?
Answer: Increasing left-right, urban-rural tensions.
Jeanine Áñez, a devout catholic, is seen as a threat by the mostly indigenous population, even though many are Christians. This fear has been further fueled by the resurgence of some comments degrading indigenous traditions, calling them satanic and a comment mocking the former president for being indigenous. Although she denied those comments, religious symbols are a constant presence in the presidential palace during press conferences and other official acts.
She has attended numerous events to reassure the population of her intentions and with other gestures like keeping the wiphala flag and adopting the patuju flower as her emblem, both representative symbols of indigenous groups. However, subtle remarks like “God allowed the bible back into the Palace” keep the general population on edge about her true intentions.
Additionally, Áñez decided to try to mend the breach within the opposition by herself and announced her candidacy in January 2020. However, instead of resolving tensions, she exacerbated the situation by further dividing the conservative vote. Originally, polls looked promising, but since the Covid-19 pandemic began her policies and overall management of the crisis only contributed to the loss of her supporters. Moreover, a corruption scandal surrounding missing medical equipment was picked up by her opponents who swiftly spread the narrative that she had used the money for her campaign.
The political right, led by the parties of Luis Fernando Camacho and former president Carlos Mesa, seems to be struggling between maintaining the MAS candidate, Luis Arce, out of power while also differentiating each party from the next. Meanwhile, Candidate Luis Arce and MAS continue to fight for power while trying to remind the public how leftist policies are the better alternative, although
13 years left little to show for it. Their point of convergence seems to reside on their opinion of the interim president and her role hereinafter, which is out of office.
What is driving Áñez?
Answer: The fear of another leftist presidency.
“If we don’t unite, Morales will return. If we don’t unite, democracy loses,” stated interim president Jeanine Áñez after dropping out of the presidential race in an attempt to unite the right-wing vote. She called for the Bolivian population to vote for the candidate with the “best percentage” after polls displayed right-wing fragmentation, and positioned MAS candidate Luis Arce in the lead with almost 31% of the votes, although other sources estimate up to 40.3% of the votes.
While the conservative vote continues to be fragmented, Áñez’s move could shift the decision making from within the party to between ideologies which could mean there is a lower number of undecided voters. In order for a candidate to win the first round they would need 50% of the vote and it is unlikely that MAS will manage to collect that amount with a more consolidated conservative front. With Áñez out of the race and implicitly endorsing former president Carlos Mesa, there are higher chances of the elections going to the second round which would greatly increase the opposition’s chance of winning as only two candidates can participate in the second round.
What does this mean for you?
Answer: A warning.
Left-wing populist governments have had a strong foothold in Latin America for a while now, and Bolivia is no different. While the situation of Bolivia may look like the demise of democracy to the naked eye, it only takes a few minutes of research to realize that it is anything but.
The situation of Bolivia is a warning. Many of the populist narratives exploited by the socialist movement were exacerbated and manipulated by the former president, but these tensions existed before and will continue to do so until someone decides to address them in a manner that is neither dismissive nor inflammatory.
The same population that took to the streets to protest their rights when former president Morales got too comfortable with his position went out to protest when interim president Jeanine Áñez formed a cabinet that lacked the representation and diversity she had promised. For one, they were revered and for the other, condemned.
The political climate in Bolivia will remain unstable for a while regardless of who wins the candidacy. But until whoever is in power decides to address the country’s fragile institutional framework and its polarized society in a non-partisan way, we will continue to see a pendulum swing of the political spectrum as people search for a person that can satisfy the need for stability that the country so deeply yearns for.