Bolivia entered a sudden era of political uncertainty yesterday as President Evo Morales, pushed by the military and weeks of massive protests, resigned after nearly 14 years in power and seemingly every person constitutionally in line for the job quit as well.
Crowds of jubilant foes of the socialist leader celebrated in the streets with honking horns and fireworks after Morales’s announcement Sunday, treating as a triumph of democracy the ouster of a man who pushed aside presidential term limits and claimed victory in a widely questioned October election.
“We are celebrating that Bolivia is free,” said one demonstrator near the presidential palace. But others, including Morales himself saw it as a return to the bleak era of coups d’etat overseen by Latin American militaries that long dominated the region. Morales stepped aside only after the military chief, Gen. Williams Kaliman, called for him to quit to allow the restoration of peace and stability.
Morales earlier in the day had already accepted calls for a new election by an Organization of American States team that found a “heap of observed irregularities” in the Oct. 20 election whose official result showed Morales getting just enough votes to avoid a runoff against a united opposition.
As at press time, it wasn’t immediately clear who would succeed Morales, or how his successor would be chosen. His vice president also resigned as did the Senate president, who was next in line. The only other official listed by the constitution as a successor, the head of the lower house, already had resigned.
There were no immediate signs that the military itself was maneuvering for power, but “I think we have to keep a close eye on what the military does over the next few hours,” said Jennifer Cyr, associate professor of political science and Latin American studies at the University of Arizona.