Analysis. Workers movements in Bolivia have given the ‘transition’ government an ultimatum: Sept. 6 elections or civil unrest. Áñez ordered the police to get ready.

COVID-19 gave the Bolivian president extra time, but voters are impatient

Jeanine Áñez’s “strictly transitional” government was supposed to have just one goal: organizing new “free and democratic” elections as soon as possible. It is a pity, however, that no time seems to be the right one for this government.

After the initial agreement, reached after long and troubled negotiations between the executive and the Movimiento al Socialismo, said that the elections would be held on May 3, COVID-19 gave a lifeline to the self-proclaimed president, offering her a gift in the form of an excuse to postpone the elections indefinitely. The health of Bolivians comes first, she explained. And how can one argue against that?

The fact that the polls were giving the MaS candidate, former Minister of Economy Luis Arce, the advantage, while the current president—who decided she would run after all in the meantime—was stuck in third place, was deemed to be an irrelevant detail. But now, even the second agreement reached between the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) and the political forces, which set the new date for elections as Sept. 6, is in danger of falling apart.

After the approval of Parliament, the last step was to be the promulgation of the agreement by the government—however, the coup-installed president had a sudden rethink: of course, strictly in the name of preserving the health of the Bolivians.

Áñez said that the TSE and the Plurinational Legislative Assembly must take into account the health risks that would result from holding elections in the middle of a pandemic. And so, in a letter sent to Senate President Eva Copa, she called for a “medical and scientific” study that could provide a backing for the decision.

However, the patience of the large section of the population that does not support the government is running out. It is no surprise that the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB) and the Federación Sindical de Trabajadores Mineros de Bolivia (FSTMB) unions have sent the president a clear warning.

“You have two options left,” FSTB executive secretary Orlando Gutiérrez explained to her: either immediately approve holding the elections on the scheduled date of Sept. 6 or face “the uprising of the people.” And in even more explicit terms: “Either you leave after democratic national elections, or you leave after social unrest.”

Indeed, there are all too many reasons to kick her out. The management of the pandemic by the coup-installed government, despite Áñez’s ostentatious concern for the health of the Bolivians, has been severely criticized by the population, both for the lack of support measures for the lower classes and for the manifest inadequacy shown in the face of the health emergency (the approximately 22,500 official cases of contagion are a meaningless number due to the small number of swabs carried out).

In the whole of the country, the healthcare system is collapsing, with hospitals in many cities no longer able to admit any more sick people. While 120 doctors in La Paz have been infected with the virus due to a lack of protective equipment, health workers in Santa Cruz have started a hunger strike in protest against the lack of resources. In addition, something that brought the executive even more into disrepute was the scandal of the purchase of 170 Spanish-made ventilators at almost four times the regular cost, a scandal that saw Health Minister Marcelo Navajas arrested, accused of embezzlement of public funds, influence peddling and crimes against public health.

However, the government is responding to the ultimatum from the social movements just like it does to any form of dissent, with the only instruments at its disposal: coercive measures and military repression. After it issued a decree on May 7 criminalizing anyone who discloses “information that endangers public health or generates uncertainty among the population,” the current president has now instructed the police to prepare themselves to “curb the violence by the violent ones,” as Áñez is calling the social movements.

In other words, the order is to suppress any demonstrations in favor of holding elections.

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