The head of Bolivia’s Senate, Jeanine Anez, took office as interim president on Tuesday as former leader Evo Morales pledged to keep up his political “fight” from exile in Mexico after resigning in what he has alleged was a coup.
Anez, 52, assumed leadership before other lawmakers in Congress, invoking a constitutional clause that dictates that she would be next in line to rule the country after Morales and his vice president, Alvaro Garcia, resigned on Sunday.
A parliamentary session scheduled to formally appoint her was boycotted by lawmakers from Morales’ leftist MAS party, who said it would be illegitimate.
“Before the definitive absence of the president and vice president ... as the president of the Chamber of Senators, I immediately assume the presidency as foreseen in the constitutional order,” Anez, a right-wing opponent of Morales, said to applause from opposition lawmakers.
It was unclear if the move would quell unrest in the highland capital, La Paz, and other cities unleashed by Morales’ disputed bid for a fourth term. Video footage on Tuesday showed police battling Morales supporters in the city of Cochabamba and masked protesters calling for civil war.
A senator with Morales’ party called for protests starting on Tuesday until he returns to finish his mandate in January.
Morales’ resignation came after the Organization of American States (OAS) declared there were serious irregularities during the October 20 election, prompting political allies to quit and the army to urge him to step down.
Morales, the longest-serving leader among a wave of Latin American leftists who dominated the region in the early years of the century, resigned after weeks of protests over the disputed election and pressure from security forces on Sunday.
Morales called Anez’s move to replace him part of “the most cunning and disastrous coup in history.” Earlier on Tuesday, he thanked Mexico for saving his life as he arrived to take up asylum in the country, repeating his accusation that his rivals had ousted him in a coup.
“As long as I am alive, we will remain in politics. As long as I am alive, the fight continues,” Morales told reporters after disembarking from the plane, dressed in a blue short-sleeved shirt. He was met by Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard.
The former president was then whisked away in a military helicopter, television footage showed. Mexican officials have not said where he will stay, citing security concerns.
Earlier on Tuesday, Anez called for Bolivians to come together but fell short of promising protection for MAS lawmakers who have asked for safety guarantees.
“We are emerging from one of the darkest episodes of our democratic history,” said Anez. “To those who have caused damage or committed any crime: God and justice will judge you.”
Riot police officers stand in position in La Paz, Bolivia November 12, 2019. REUTERS
More than 30 election officials across the country have been arrested following Morales’ resignation, according to the office of Bolivia’s attorney general.
Residents of La Paz said they hoped politicians would finally restore order to the city, which has been rocked since the election by protests and looting.
“Democracy has been at risk and hopefully it will be resolved today,” said resident Isabel Nadia.
The country’s biggest federation of labor unions has threatened an indefinite strike if politicians and civic leaders fail to restore order, and the local Catholic Church has called for peace and safety guarantees for lawmakers.