With Morales sentenced to exile – first in Mexico, now in Argentina – believers like Mamani remained politically orphaned and Mas in disarray.
Jeanine Áñez, a right-wing senator who once called the indigenous peoples of Bolivia “satanic”, took power as interim president, bringing a sudden and shocking end to nearly 14 years of leftist rule during which the long excluded country original (indigenous peoples) finally took center stage.
Activists have since accused Áñez’s government of using the justice system to conduct a politically motivated witch hunt against Morales and his allies.
But nearly 12 months after last year’s convulsion, Morales’s Movement for Socialism could be on the verge of making a sensational political comeback in Sunday’s twice postponed presidential election.
The vote is a replay of the doomed October 2019 election that was called off after inflammatory allegations of electoral fraud by the Organization of American States (OAS) fueled protests and saw Morales resign under pressure security forces.
Polls suggest that Mas ‘candidate, Morales’ former finance minister Luis Arce, has the edge over his main challenger, a centrist journalist and former president called Carlos Mesa.
“They [Mas] are in the driver’s seat and if they can mobilize voters this weekend – and they’re the only party that can – they could very well do, ”said Eduardo Gamarra, an expert on Bolivia at Florida International University.
Gamarra believed a second round – which Mesa, 67, would likely win – remained the most likely prospect. If no candidate obtains an absolute majority, or 40% of the vote with 10% respite, a second round will take place on November 29. The third major candidate is Luis Fernando Camacho of the new right-wing Creemos alliance (“We believe”). Áñez withdrew her candidacy last month saying she did not want to split the Conservative vote.
But because Morales’ rivals had “atomized” the anti-Mas vote, it was no exaggeration to imagine that Arce, a soft-spoken career civil servant with a master’s degree from the University of Warwick, could triumph at the first request. .
“There is most likely a scenario where the Mas essentially picks up where it left off, only with Luis Arce as chairman,” Gamarra said.
Arce raised the possibility on Wednesday at his latest campaign rally – a high-altitude celebration of the flag waving and dancing in El Alto, a stronghold of Morales support above the de facto capital La Paz.
“They thought they were going to kill the Movement Towards Socialism. But we are here in El Alto to tell them, “We are here and we are alive!” The 57-year-old candidate told supporters dressed in the group’s blue, white and black colors.
“The right has robbed the people and has shown its inability to govern,” Arce added, referring to accusations that Áñez and his cabinet seized power illegally and botched the response to Covid-19, which killed thousands of people. Bolivians.
Mamani was also hoping for a first-round victory and believed Arce could “revive” Bolivia.
But, like many Mas voters, he feared that a “monumental fraud” was concocted with the acquiescence of the United States and the OAS, whose disputed claims about vote rigging in the elections of the last year played a key role in forcing Morales abroad.
This week, a senior US State Department official argued that Morales’ claim that winning the 2019 election was “the product of massive fraud” and suggested that support for a presidency of Arce was not completely insured.
“We look forward to working with all those Bolivians freely and fairly choose to be their president,” the official vaguely told reporters, praising protesters who rose up against Morales last year for “defending their democracy” .
If the prospect of a socialist revival has Masistes Overjoyed, that’s the stuff of nightmares for Morales’s detractors, who see him as a power-obsessed authoritarian determined to cling to power and destroy Bolivian democracy.
Morales’ attempt to secure an unprecedented fourth consecutive term last year came despite voters denying him that right in a 2016 referendum, the outcome of which he ignored.
Libertad Gabriela Vaca Poehlmann, president of an opposition group called Unidos en Acción (United in Action), recalled his elation when the former president fled to Mexico City on November 10 last year.
“I felt relief. I felt hope. I felt the freedom, ”said Poehlmann, 45, one of the thousands of citizens who took to the streets of Bolivia last year to pressure Morales.
Twelve months later, she feared her movement would stage what had once seemed an unlikely comeback and urged voters to back the candidate they felt was best placed to prevent it. “If Mas came back… it would be terrible for the country. As the saying goes: “People get the governors they deserve,” Poehlmann said.
Foreign diplomats and voters on both sides fear another contested outcome could lead to a repeat of last year’s violence when at least 36 people, mostly Mas supporters, lost their lives. And tensions escalated in the run-up to the vote with reports of paramilitary groups attacking Mas activists and some panicked citizens stockpiling food in anticipation of a possible unrest.
Observers are confident Morales will seek to return to Bolivia, and possibly frontline politics, if Arce wins.
“He’s a political animal. His whole life is devoted to politics. So he will try to come back and there could be tensions, ”said Diego von Vacano, Bolivian political scientist at Texas A&M University. “But for the sake of the party… I think Evo could play a bit more symbolic role as opposed to a more active commander role,” he added.
Vacano has denied that Arce was merely an attorney for Morales, who has been placed under investigation for alleged acts of terrorism by the conservative interim governors of Bolivia and is barred from appearing.
“Arce is not a puppet,” insisted the academic who unofficially advised the candidate’s campaign. “He knows that Evo is the historic leader of Mas. But this is a new period and it requires a different approach. He made it clear that he wanted to do it his way.
Mamani said he also hoped the former president would step down, despite his affection for Morales and the commodity-fueled social and economic progress he oversaw after his historic 2005 election.
“We have to see the rotation of power. No matter how good a leader, they should not be in power all the time. You need a change. ”
“He spent 14 years working. Saturdays, Sundays, public holidays. From 5 am to midnight, ”Mamani said of Morales. “It’s time for him to rest.