LA PAZ – Bolivia’s government said that an Organization of American States audit of Bolivia’s hotly disputed election is scheduled to begin on Thursday and that the outcome of that process will be binding for all parties.
Bolivian Foreign Minister Diego Pary made his remarks to reporters in La Paz on Wednesday, saying that an electronic agreement would be signed to that effect later in the day.
Pary said Bolivia also is inviting observers from Spain, Mexico and Paraguay to participate in the audit of a vote that official results show longtime incumbent Evo Morales won in the first round.
The agreement states that Bolivia will fully ensure that the OAS is able to verify ballots, access installations and data, review the chain of custody of ballot boxes and all other information pertaining to the Oct. 20 election and subsequent vote count, he added.
The work carried out by a group of around 30 experts will not undermine the country’s sovereignty nor the independence of its electoral authority, the foreign minister said without indicating how long the process will take.
The report will be binding for all parties and will be delivered to OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro and then forwarded on to the Bolivian government.
Pary concluded by saying that leading opposition candidate Carlos Mesa, who maintains the election was marred by fraud, has agreed to the audit. Bolivia’s government has expressed confidence that the external review will resolve all doubts surrounding a voting process it says was conducted with complete transparency.
Mesa, who served as Bolivia’s head of state from 2003 to 2005, on Tuesday demanded that Morales’ government reverse course and not recognize a vote tally that showed the leftist president winning in the first round.
The incumbent met one of the thresholds for averting a Dec. 15 runoff by capturing well over 40 percent of the vote with a more than 10-percentage-point margin of victory over his nearest rival (Mesa).
Although Bolivia’s government had announced that Morales would speak at the press conference, Pary instead appeared and read a statement without taking any questions.
Demonstrations have been held in Bolivia since the opposition and citizens’ movements accused the government of irregularities in the vote count.
Violent protests have erupted in recent days in several Bolivian cities, with clashes breaking out between demonstrators and police and between government supporters and opponents.
In a statement a day after the general election, the Electoral Observation Mission of the OAS expressed “deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results revealed after the closing of the polls.”
That delegation said results disseminated at 7.40 pm on Oct. 20 by Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), the country’s highest electoral authority, “clearly indicated a second round.”
“At (8.10 pm), the TSE stopped disclosing preliminary results ... with more than 80 percent of the votes counted. 24 hours later, the TSE presented data with an inexplicable change in trend that drastically modifies the fate of the election and generates a loss of confidence in the electoral process,” the statement read.
Morales responded by calling on the OAS as a whole to evaluate its delegation of election observers that oversaw the balloting, saying that no one has shown proof that any fraud occurred.
Morales has said the fraud allegations are part of a coup attempt by Bolivia’s right. He also slammed Mesa last Thursday as a “coward” and a “criminal” and accused him of paying young people to participate in anti-government protests in different parts of the country since Oct. 21.
The first indigenous president of this majority indigenous Andean nation acknowledged that the vote tally was closer on this occasion than in his three earlier election victories in 2005, 2009 and 2014, when his margin of victory always exceeded 20 percentage points and was as high as 37 percentage points on two occasions, saying “some mistakes” made over 13 years in power may have cost him votes.
The mere participation in this year’s election by Morales – who nationalized the energy sector in May 2006, four months after first taking office, and enacted a new constitution in 2009 that “refounded” Bolivia to the advantage of the Andean nation’s downtrodden Indian majority – was seen as illegitimate by the opposition.
Morales secured a third term in office in 2014 after winning a Constitutional Court decision a year earlier.
That tribunal had ruled that because his initial term began three years prior to the enactment of the new constitution it did not count toward term limits restricting presidents to two five-year periods in office.
It then appeared Morales would be barred from running for yet another term this year after voters narrowly rejected his plans to do so in a 2016 plebiscite, but the Constitutional Court in late 2017 abolished term limits for all elected officials on the grounds that they violate candidates’ human rights.