Bolivian President Evo Morales celebrated a court decision this week authorising a tilt at a fourth consecutive term, in what the opposition slammed as a blow to democracy. Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, first took office in January 2006. He would rule until 2025 if re-elected in 2019, a sequence of events that would give him 19 consecutive years in power.
The leftist president told a press conference on Wednesday that a possible fourth term “guarantees democratic continuity, but also guarantees stability, dignity and work for dignity.” However, Morales narrowly lost a referendum last year on changing the Constitution to allow him to seek a fourth term. Bolivia’s Constitutional Court then stepped in when his party mounted an appeal, and finally ruled in his favour on Tuesday.
“The Democratic and Cultural revolution continues. To Victory forever!” the 58-year-old president posted on Twitter. In February 2016, Bolivians voted by a slim margin (51 percent to 49 percent) against proposed changes to the Constitution to allow Morales – already Bolivia’s longest-serving leader since independence from Spain in 1825 – to stand again for the presidency. The Constitutional Court however ruled that the right to run for office superseded the limits imposed in the Constitution. Morales already had the Constitution changed three years after taking office.
Under that revised document he was elected president in 2009, and then won what was meant to be a one-off renewal in 2014. Demonstrators against Morales’ re-election took to the streets in the capital La Paz on Wednesday. In nearby El Alto, students marched under a banner calling on the president to step down, carrying signs that read “Evo dictator.”
The ruling “turns Bolivia into a country subject to the discretion of President Morales,” said Carlos Mesa, who according to opinion polls would be Morales’ strongest opponent if he decides to run for office. “We will not allow Bolivia to become Venezuela and we will confront Evo Morales in the streets, at the polls, in the city and in the countryside,” said former opposition candidate Samuel Doria Medina.
“This is one of the largest attacks on the rule of law, the Constitution, democracy,” added constitutional lawyer Carlos Alarcón, referring to the Constitutional Court’s ruling that ignored last year’s referendum. Political analyst Jorge Lazarte said the court ruling was “a coup against the Constitution and a blow against the popular will.”
Former president Jorge Quiroga said, “Being a tyrant is not, nor will be, recognised internationally.” Morales belongs to a generation of Latin American leftist leaders who champion “21st-century socialism.” He has overseen robust economic growth and brought millions above the poverty line, but opponents accuse him of tolerating corruption and investing in flashy infrastructure projects at the expense of healthcare and education. Bolivia’s mineral- and gas-rich economy has more than tripled in size during his decade in office and Morales has been re-elected twice with large majorities.
Ecuador’s former president Rafael Correa returned to his country this week in combative style, declaring himself to be “the main opponent” of President Lenín Moreno. Correa, who seems to be infuriated by the direction his successor is taking is a former ally of Moreno who now accuses his hand-picked successor of betraying his legacy. The former Ecuadorean president said this week that there was a “counter-revolution within our own bowels,” as he spoke at a meeting of the Alianza PAIS, the coalition of both leaders.
Moreno is seeking to introduce a one-term limit on the presidency, against Correa’s wishes.