The Organization of American States is sending a team to launch a "binding" audit of Bolivia's presidential election. The opposition accuses officials of manipulating the count to ensure the reelection of Evo Morales.
The Organization of American States will audit Bolivia's election following fraud allegations. However, the opposition has already raised doubts about the US-based OAS's intervention.
The "integrating and binding" audit — with compliance by all political parties obliged — will focus on the October 20 vote and the aftermath, Bolivian Foreign Minister Diego Pary said.
The tally gave incumbent Evo Morales a big enough margin to win in the first round without the need for a runoff against former President Carlos Mesa and a possibly united center-to-right opposition. Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, won a fourth term with 47% over Mesa's 36.5%, according to the official results. However, for a period of about 20 hours, officials stopped announcing results as they came in — raising alarms from the OAS, the European Union, the US and other international actors and fueling protests across Bolivia.
OAS Chief of Staff Gonzalo Koncke said the 30-member team would begin work Thursday and release the results in 10-12 days, focusing on verifying calculations, certificates, ballots and the informatics process and examining statistical components and the safeguarding of ballot boxes.
Mesa said officials fudged the count, giving Morales the 10-point lead needed to win outright, after it had been predicted that the election would go to a runoff. The opposition "does not accept the audit in the current terms, which were agreed on unilaterally," and wants an inquiry into the pre-election process, when critics said the federal tribunal favored Morales, who rose to prominence as the leader of the coca farmers union.
The president had remained popular after 14 years of relative economic stability. But many Bolivians once excited by his fairytale rise had soured on him as he sought a third reelection despite a popular referendum that upheld term limits. The Supreme Court permitted Morales to run, ruling that term limits would violate his political rights.
The election tribunal president in the heavily populated Santa Cruz region resigned on Wednesday, apologizing for her role in the crisis. In her letter to the tribunal's vice president, Alvaro Garcia, Sandra Kettels said the tribunal had failed to "manage a direct and informative line of communication" and announced her "irrevocable resignation" after five years service.
Kettels became the second elections official to resign since the contested vote. Two days after the October 20 polls, the vice president of the federal tribunal resigned, apologizing for his decision to suspend the rapid vote-count system for the extended period on Election Day.
A strike continued Wednesday in Santa Cruz, an opposition bastion. The election tribunal offices there and in four other regions have been burned and ransacked in the protests.
Backers and foes of Morales also continued to clash in Bolivia's capital, La Paz, although with a less violent response than that of previous days, which had left dozens injured and detained. Bolivians told news agencies that two weeks of protests had left them exhausted.
mkg/se (EFE, Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)