In a tense climate, Bolivia returns to the polls after a year of confrontation and violence

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The country elects a president this Sunday. The MAS candidate, Luis Arce, leads the polls, but there could be a second round, in which Carlos Mesa, of the center-right, would win.

Almost a year after turbulent elections that unleashed a deep and at times violent political crisis, Bolivia is preparing to return to the polls this Sunday. After two postponements forced by the coronavirus pandemic and in an uncertain scenario about who will take the reins of the country in the middle of a strong political confrontation, hovers the fear of renewed agitation in the streets.

Will it be the déja vu of a murky scenario or the door to a path of renewal that will allow the country to be put back on track?

The polls show the candidate of the Movement for Socialism as the favorite, Luis Arce, although with very different figures from one polling station to another (ranging from 27% to 42%). And the latest data indicate that it is very likely that he will have to contest a second round against the center-right candidate Carlos Mesa, who would have between 25% and 37% intention to vote. But there remains an important flow of undecided or from respondents who did not reveal who they will vote for.

Thus, before the fear of a very narrow victory that could raise the tension, the MAS returned to shake the specter of fraud these days.

The party that ruled the country for almost 14 years under the leadership of Evo Morales – the leader of the coca producers who for the first time in almost three decades cannot be a candidate – seeks to ensure victory this Sunday. It is that a second round would give more chances to Mesa, from the Citizen Community coalition, which would be able to summon the “useful vote” of other right-wing groups that would unite against a return of the Evo Morales party.

In addition to Arce and Mesa, there are four other candidates, although they appear very far in the polls. Acting President Jeanine Añez, after several controversies, back and forth, withdrew from the electoral race, at the risk of further dividing the vote against the MAS.

Third on the list is Luis Fernando Camacho, the far-right leader from the Santa Cruz region, who gained enormous notoriety in the protests against Evo Morales last year, but who is not widely supported outside of his stronghold. Much further back are the evangelical pastor of Korean origin Chi Hyun Chung, the miner Feliciano Mamani and the only woman still on the ballot, Cruz Bayá.

Although the interim government of the conservative Añez promises transparency and dozens of international observers will be watching the process closely, the MAS demanded “true and documented” information from the Bolivian electoral body on the reliability of the results and announced that if there is fraud it will mobilize his people to the streets.

In recent days, markets and service stations have filled in La Paz and other cities in the country, where many families rushed purchases to prevent a possible scenario of violence after the elections.

The memory of October last year is still fresh, and even more so are the mobilizations and roadblocks organized by the MAS and related social movements in recent months, in protests against the Añez government and in rejection of the postponement of the elections.

“The climate is one of great uncertainty,” he told Clarion Bolivian journalist and analyst Raúl Peñaranda. “Several polls anticipate a victory for Arce in the first round, but others speak of a second round. In that case, Mesa has every chance of winning. I believe that this will be the scenario, it is possible that Arce’s victory will be narrow and will not reach 40% and 10 points of difference to ensure the victory in the first round ”, he explained.

And did not rule out a stress scenario if the result raises any doubt as to whether or not there is a ballot.

But the number of undecided and the “hidden vote”, which is not revealed in polls, can pose surprises. And the possible “useful vote” is also present: many of those who support Camacho could finally vote for Mesa, aware that the Santa Cruz leader has little chance and the dispersion of votes will end up favoring the MAS candidate.

Political analyst Erika Brockman, for her part, rules out that this year there may be a manipulation in the electoral process. “An attempt has been made to construct a narrative of fraud, but it is very difficult for that to happen in light of the behavior of the electoral body, which has not joined any of the trends, has not complied with pressure from the Executive and it has tried to act according to the law, “he said.

About 7.3 million Bolivians are called to the polls, to also elect the 130 members of Parliament. This year there will be a special protocol and strict measures to avoid coronavirus infections, when the country little by little begins to resume activities after several months of quarantine.

The pandemic hit the country with about 140,000 cases and more than 8,400 deaths and caused a collapse of hospitals for several weeks. That is why the elections, initially scheduled for May, were first rescheduled for September and finally agreed – after tough political confrontations – for this Sunday.

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