Bolivians have new uncertainty to grapple with now that opposition Senator Jeanine Anez has declared herself interim president of the crisis-torn Andean nation just hours after former Bolivian president Evo Morales flew off to self-exile in Mexico.
Questions remained about who might rally around Anez, while Morales’ supporters angrily accused her of trying to seize power in her declaration on Tuesday, raising the prospect of more troubles following weeks of clashes over the disputed Oct. 20 presidential election.
Some people took to the streets cheering and waving national flags on Tuesday night after Anez claimed the post of Senate leader, the position next in line for the presidency.
Furious supporters of Morales responded by trying to force their way to the Congress building in La Paz, chanting: “She must quit.”
Anez, a women’s rights activist and former TV presenter, seemed in a tenuous position.
She declared herself interim president even though she lacked a quorum in the Senate after Morales’ party boycotted the session, and she was not sworn in by anyone before appearing on a balcony of the old presidential palace wearing the presidential sash.
“My commitment is to return democracy and tranquility to the country,” she said. “They can never again steal our vote.”
Morales resigned on Sunday under pressure from military leaders following weeks of violent protests fed by allegations of electoral fraud in the election, which he claimed to have won.
Although Anez met with General Williams Kaliman, the armed forces commander, it was uncertain how much support she could count on from other power centers.
Morales resigned shortly after an Organization of American States audit reported widespread irregularities in the vote count.
He arrived in Mexico on Tuesday under a grant of asylum, but his resignation still needed to be approved by both houses of Congress, and lawmakers could not assemble the numbers needed for formal sessions.
Anez forged ahead anyway, arguing that Bolivia could not wait and be left in a power vacuum.
After Morales quit, resignations by allies left vacancies in the only posts listed by the constitution as presidential successors — vice president, head of the Senate and the leader of the lower house.
Anez was a second-tier opposition figure until Morales, Latin America’s longest-serving leader, resigned after nearly 14 years in power.
She immediately tried to set out differences with the socialist leader.
She greeted supporters at an old palace instead of the nearby modern 26-story presidential palace with a heliport that was built by Morales and that his foes had criticized as one of his excesses.
She also carried a Bible, which had been banned by Morales from the presidential palace after he reformed the constitution and recognized the Andean Earth deity Pachamama instead of the Roman Catholic Church.
Morales wrote on Twitter that Anez’s “self-proclamation” was an affront to constitutional government.
“Bolivia is suffering an assault on the power of the people,” he wrote.
Even before Anez acted, thousands of Morales supporters were in the streets of the capital in peaceful demonstrations clamoring for his return. Military fighter jets flew repeatedly over La Paz in a show of force that infuriated Morales loyalists, who were blocked by police and soldiers from marching to the main square.
“We’re not afraid,” shouted the demonstrators, who believe that Morales’ departure was a coup.
“Evo was like a father to me. We had a voice, we had rights,” said Maria Apasa, who like Morales is a member of the Aymara indigenous group.
Morales’ detractors accused him of becoming increasingly authoritarian and rigging the election.
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