Bolivia: The Unfinished Democratic Transition

Ramiro Orias*


The failed elections of October 20, 2019 marked a critical milestone in the consolidation of democracy in Bolivia. Whatever the various interpretations of the moment—whether it was electoral fraud or a coup d’état—this episode of political conflict and citizen protest will be remembered in the country’s long-term historical memory as the end of the 14-year government of President Evo Morales, the longest continuous presidential term in the history of the republic.

The political crisis and social upheaval that the country experienced reflected a prolonged, gradual, and cumulative process of institutional weakening, which not only jeopardized the performance of the electoral system but also was rooted in the continuous erosion of the justice system’s capacity to protect citizens’ rights and guarantee the separation and independence of the branches of government.

There are several fundamental data points for understanding how Bolivian democracy deteriorated to the point of constitutional emergency: the inapplicability of constitutional term limits to the presidency; the authorization of the incumbent president’s candidacy for a fourth consecutive term; the subsequent nullification of the elections of October 20, 2019; the resignation of former President Evo Morales and his untimely departure to seek political asylum; the constitutional succession of President Jeanine Añez; her frustrated candidacy and subsequent withdrawal; the successive postponements of the date for new elections following the declaration of a public health emergency in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic; and the extension of terms of office in the executive branch, the legislature, and subnational governments beyond the regularly established limits.

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