LA PAZ – Bolivia will hold its general elections on Sunday, a year after presidential polls were followed by a political crisis, amid uncertainty over the restoration of democracy in the South American country.
On Saturday, a minor controversy erupted over the arrival of observer delegations from the rest of the Americas and Europe amid appeals for calm to prevent a repeat of the socio-political crisis surrounding the 2019 polls.
Many Bolivians have stocked up on food and fuel as suspense persists over the government formation following the polls, after around a year of a transitional administration headed by interim president Jeanine Añez.
On Friday night, the arrival of Argentine lawmaker Federico Fagioli at the capital’s El Alto airport got mired in controversy.
Fagioli alleged that police arrested him on arrival. Argentine President Alberto Fernandez blamed Añez’s interim government.
The government denied arresting the Argentine and accused the left-wing lawmaker of arriving in the country to meddle in its internal affairs.
Bolivia’s electoral body has authorized international observer missions, including those of the Organization of the American States and the European Union. But the transitional government has alleged that many of the delegations were unaccredited observers and invitees of the opposition party Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS).
Evo Morales, former president and self-exiled MAS leader who has headed the party’s campaign from Argentina, took to social media to criticize the incident with the Argentine lawmaker.
He said that international observers ensure electoral transparency at a time when his party has repeatedly questioned the system of compiling the results.
Morales urged Bolivians to stay calm in an appeal echoed by the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
In a brief statement, Guterres appealed for respecting the Bolivian election results, which can take days.
The elections held on Oct. 20, 2019, were annulled amid fraud allegations to favor Morales, who was declared the winner for a fourth consecutive term.
Morales has always maintained that he had secured a legitimate victory. A judicial process investigating the elections is still underway.
MAS, which has been leading pre-poll surveys without it being clear if it would win outrightly in the first round, has announced that it would have its vote-counting system.
If the left-wing party fails to secure a first-round victory, its candidate Luis Arce might face a runoff against the nominee of the centrist coalition Comunidad Ciudadana, former president Carlos Mesa, who was ousted in 2005 amid a political crisis after two years in office.
MAS has questioned the elimination of steps, like photographing of ballots, from the counting process, and the fact that the ballot boxes would be guarded by the military, apart from the police.
Morales maintains that he was forced out of power in November 2019 through a coup backed by the military and the police.
The leader had fled the country after a report of the OAS backed electoral fraud claims, although other parties had denied the allegations.
OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro said on Saturday that Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Court had allowed taking photos of the ballots, even though the system had removed it as a mandatory requirement.
Around 7.3 million Bolivians are registered to vote on Sunday to elect the president, vice-president, senators, and deputies from five different campaigns, with three other presidential candidates withdrawing during the campaign.
Interim President Añez, who withdrew her candidature, said on Saturday that voting would take place amid a bio-security protocol to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The health emergency led to the polls being postponed from May 3 to Sept. 6 and subsequently to Oct. 18.
Morning and evening shifts for voting, an extra hour, mandatory use of masks, and social distancing in the queues are some of the preventive measures announced by authorities.
Bolivia has so far registered over 8,400 deaths and around 139,000 cases of the new coronavirus, although the majority of them have now recovered.