Bolivian President Evo Morales has secured a fourth term in a controversial election. Initial results, which started to surface on Sunday, sparked mass protests in cities across Bolivia, as tens of thousands flock to the streets amidst allegations of voter fraud.

The protests are said to be one of the biggest in Bolivia in decades, with claims of over 100,000 people in attendance. Demonstrations are expected to continue throughout the country as anger about the results continues to surge.

What is at the root of the protests?

Suspicions of vote tampering were first triggered when the official electoral board, Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), suddenly stopped its electronic count – with just 84 per cent of votes counted – at the time that Morales and his main opponent, Carlos Mesa, were heading towards a second round. Morales was in the lead but he was still short of the 10-point that he needed for an outright victory.

After public fury, the tallying resumed on Monday, revealing that Morales had gained an almost 10-point lead, which meant he would be the automatic winner. The revelation propelled the country into more violent rioting amidst claims that the voting was rigged. Two electoral tribunal buildings were raided, protestors started fires, and some were injured.

In an official video, Mesa said, “What just happened minutes ago is something that we all expected. We knew how stubborn the president is.”

Mesa speculated that if he had another round with Morales that his chances of winning would increase – especially if he won the support of the eliminated candidates

Costas – the vice president of the Bolivian Supreme Electoral Court – handed in his resignation on Tuesday because of the voting fraud accusations.

On Thursday, Morales declared that he had won the latest elections, after securing 47.1% of the votes and beating Mesa by more than 10 % of the votes, thereby bypassing a run-off. Mesa has since called for a second-round vote, with many countries supporting the request such as the US, Brazil, Columbia, and Argentina.

The European Union (EU) also argued that a second election should be held in Bolivia. In a statement issued on Thursday, it stated, “As final results of last Sunday’s presidential and legislative elections in Bolivia are still pending and civil unrest is rising in the country, the European Union expects the Bolivian government and electoral authorities to resolve the situation.”

Referring to a statement by the Organisation of American States (OAS), which called for a run-off between Morales and Mesa – even if Morales was declared the winner, the EU added, “The European Union fully shares the OAS assessment that the Bolivian authorities should finalise the ongoing counting process and that the best option would be to hold a second round to restore trust and ensure the full respect of the democratic choice of the Bolivian people.”

Who is Morales?

Morales, Latin America’s first indigenous president, first came to power in 2005. Many attest that he brought positive changes in Bolivia – especially for the indigenous community who had previously been oppressed. The South American country has the largest proportion of indigenous people, who make up around two-thirds of the population.

Despite being praised for his social policies and reforms, many felt that his running for a fourth term in office was unfair. In 2016, a referendum was held and voters rejected the state’s proposal to change term limits, which have blocked Morales from running for president for a fourth term. Protesters carried signs that read, “No means no” and “Respect my vote”, when Morales still pursued the issue. His party, Movement for Socialism (MAS), petitioned the case in the constitutional court, which overturned the voting and ruled in Morales’ favour, paving the way for him to run for a fourth term.

Thus far, Morales has rejected the requests for a second-round voting and ignored the accusations of a fraudulent election. He claims to have had nothing to do with the outcome, and instead, that it was part of the opposition’s campaign to oust his leadership and tarnish his reputation.

On Friday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights cautioned: “There is a serious risk the situation will spiral out of control.”

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