Bolivia's Morales seeks new election but army calls on him to resign

by Francisco JARA, Raul BURGOA and Francisco JARA
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Bolivian President Evo Morales, seen here at a news conference November 10, 2019, calls new elections

President Evo Morales called new elections Sunday but the commander of the armed forces asked him to resign "for the good of our Bolivia" after an OAS audit found serious irregularities in elections last month that gave the leftist leader a fourth term.

Morales, Bolivia's first president of indigenous descent, promised new elections under the direction of a revamped Supreme Electoral Tribunal in a televised address but did not say whether he would run again.

With no sign of violent protests abating, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Williams Kaliman, told reporters he was asking Morales "to resign his presidential mandate to allow for pacification and the maintaining of stability, for the good of our Bolivia."

Kaliman said the armed forces had ordered "military operations in the air and on land to neutralize armed groups that are acting outside the law" by attacking opposition demonstrators.

The commander of the police, General Vladimir Yuri Calderon, also called on Morales to step down.

There were signs of disarray among Morales supporters, with the head of the lower house of parliament and the ministers of mines and of hydrocarbons announcing their resignations.

Two of those resigning cited risks to their families after mobs attacked their respective houses in the city of Potosi.

Protests have flared across Bolivia since Morales was declared the winner of the October 20 election, beating his nearest rival, centrist Carlos Mesa, by just enough to avoid a second round.

An audit of the election by the Organization of American States, however, found "irregularities that range from serious to indicative," in virtually every area reviewed -- in the technology used, the chain of custody of ballots, the integrity of the count, and statistical projections.

"This leads the technical auditing team to question the integrity of the election results," the report on their preliminary findings said.

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said the results giving the leftist leader a fourth term in office "must be annulled and the electoral process must begin again."

- Calls for resignation -

Opposition leaders were not appeased, however.

Mesa said Morales should resign "if he has a speck of patriotism left."

The leader of a protest movement, Luis Fernando Camacho, said Morales "has fractured the constitutional order and must resign."

In Washington, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the OAS to send a full mission to Bolivia to ensure free and fair new elections.

"In order to restore credibility to the electoral process, all government officials and officials of any political organizations implicated in the flawed October 20 elections should step aside from the electoral process," Pompeo added.

The October 20 results showed Morales, in office since 2006, defeating Mesa by slightly over 10 points, just enough to ensure an outright first-round victory.

It is possible that Morales came in first place in the first round but "statistically improbable" that he obtained the 10 percent margin of victory needed to avoid a second round, the OAS report said.

It said "the manipulations of the informatic system are of such magnitude that they should be thoroughly investigated by the Bolivian state to get to the bottom of them and determine responsibilities in this serious case."

- Police rebellion -

The dramatic turnabout came two days after police in three cities joined anti-government protests and a day after the opposition rejected Morales' appeal for urgent, open-ended dialogue.

Three people have died and more than 350 were injured in three weeks of often violent protests calling for new elections and Morales' resignation.

On Sunday, three people were injured, one with a gunshot wound, after a bus carrying miners to La Paz to join opposition protesters outside the presidential palace came under attack.

On Saturday, demonstrators overran two state-run media outlets and forced them off the air, while some police stopped guarding the square where Morales' presidential palace is located.

In announcing the new elections, Morales said, "I want to lower the tension. Everyone has an obligation to bring peace to Bolivia."

Morales said that in the new elections "the Bolivian people will be able to democratically elect new authorities, incorporating new political actors."

That begged the question whether Morales would stand again for re-election, a source of controversy because Bolivia's constitution, which he promulgated himself a decade ago, limits presidents to two terms.

Morales said Bolivia's bicameral legislature, which his party controls, would meet in the coming hours for the parties to work out procedures for changing out the electoral tribunal.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis on Sunday exhorted Bolivians to await the full results of the OAS audit with "peace and serenity."

Cuba called on the international community to condemn the protests against its close ally Morales as an attempted coup by "imperialism and the oligarchy."

Bolivian President Evo Morales, seen here at a news conference November 10, 2019, calls new elections

The opposition runner-up in Bolivia's recent polls, Carlos Mesa, has called for President Evo Morales to resign

Police officers march with protesters against Bolivian President Evo Morales in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, on November 9, 2019

Profile of Evo Morales, who called Sunday for new elections after violent protests and claims of electoral fraud in the first-round presidential vote, which he claimed to have won