Evo Morales may be out of the country, but he's not out of the picture.
Just days after the longtime Bolivian president stepped down under pressure from protesters and the military, fleeing to Mexico City over his controversial election victory last month, Bolivia has descended into a muddle of mass demonstrations and anger. And the chaos continues despite an opposition lawmaker's swift attempt Tuesday night to fill the power vacuum he left behind.
The Senate vice president, Jeanine Áñez, 52, declared herself interim president, as the next in the line of succession after the resignations of Morales, 60, and several of his high-ranking allies. She made the proclamation at a Senate meeting that was boycotted by members of Morales' socialist party — and that therefore lacked a quorum — but Bolivia's highest constitutional court has endorsed her move, as have government officials in Brazil, the U.K. and the U.S.
Áñez donned the presidential sash and vowed to quickly hold a new vote to determine Morales' permanent replacement. "God bless you and allow us to be free and to hold transparent elections soon," she said Wednesday, in a tweet addressed to the country's young people.
That's not to say Morales or his supporters are on board.
From his refuge in Mexico City, where he has been granted asylum, the former president called a news conference Wednesday to denounce what he has called "the racists and coup leaders" who have claimed the highest rungs of Bolivian power.
Morales, the country's first indigenous president, had been in office since 2006 and was seeking a fourth term in last month's presidential election. Constitutional term limits initially prevented him from doing so, but the longtime leader called a referendum to amend the rules — and when that bid was voted down in 2016, he took his case to court, where his candidacy was ultimately accepted.
During the election itself, which resulted in a resounding victory for Morales, monitors found a host of irregularities that prompted widespread protests and led the Organization of American States to suspect fraud at the polls. The multinational organization found the results so questionable, its team of auditors said it "cannot validate the results of this election and therefore recommends another electoral process."
On Wednesday, Morales dismissed the findings as "a political decision, not a technical or legal one," since the OAS is "in the service of the North American empire." And he said he would be willing to return to Bolivia to restore peace "if the people ask me."
Meanwhile, back in Bolivia, Morales' supporters have mobilized for mass protests in El Alto, the country's second-largest city, where tens of thousands of demonstrators clogged the streets. And in the capital, La Paz, security forces have clashed with protesters who have repeatedly tried to force their way into the building where the legislature convenes.
Áñez, for her part, met with military and police commanders at the presidential palace as her own backers hailed her assumption of the interim presidency.
"All success in the challenge you face," former President Carlos Mesa, who lost last month's disputed election, tweeted on Tuesday. "Long live the country!"
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