Bolivian President Evo Morales said on Sunday he would resign after the military suggested he step down and allies resigned amid a fierce backlash to a disputed election last month.
“I resign my post as president,” Morales said in a televised address, capping a day of fast-moving events in which several ministers and senior officials quit as support for Latin America‘s longest-serving president crumbled.
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“I want to tell you, brothers and sisters, that the fight does not end here. The poor, the social movements, will continue in this fight for equality and peace,” he said.
The commander of Bolivia‘s armed forces earlier called on the embattled Morales to resign.
“After analysing the internal conflict situation, we ask the president of the state to renounce his presidential mandate, allowing for peace to be restored and the maintenance of stability for the good of Bolivia,” armed forces commander Williams Kaliman told reporters.
Speaking on national television, Kaliman also appealed to Bolivians to refrain from violence. He stepped in after Morales agreed earlier in the day to hold a new election.
Earlier on Sunday, the military said in a statement it ordered air-and-land operations to “neutralise” armed groups that act outside the law.
“The situation is very unstable and does seem to be deteriorating,” Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas told Al Jazeera from Washington, DC. “Bolivia is traditionally a very divided society. It’s divided in geographical terms, in socio-economic terms, in racial terms so there’s a lot of kindling here for a fire to really take off is calmer heads don’t prevail.”
Morales said he will call new elections after the Organization of American States (OAS) released a report saying the October 20 vote, which sparked protests, should be annulled because of irregularities. The OAS added it was not statistically likely that Morales had secured the 10 percentage-point margin of victory needed to win outright and recommended Bolivia use new electoral authorities for any new vote.
In a news conference, Morales also said he would replace the members of the electoral board that came under fire after being mired in widespread allegations of electoral fraud in the polls.
“In the following hours, in agreement with all political forces, [we] will establish [the steps] for this [to take place],” he said.
When questioned about whether he would be a contender in the new election, Morales told a local radio station “the candidacies must be secondary, what comes first is to pacify Bolivia”, adding he has a constitutional duty to finish his term.
Rival Carlos Mesa said Morales and Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera should not preside over the electoral process or be candidates.
“If you have an iota of patriotism, you should step aside,” Mesa told Morales in a news conference.
Morales, 60, a native Aymara from Bolivia’s highlands, became the country’ first indigenous president in 2006 and easily won two more elections amid more than a decade of a commodities-fed economic boom in South America’s poorest country. He paved roads, sent Bolivia’s first satellite into space, and curbed inflation.
But he has faced growing dissatisfaction because he ran for a fourth term after refusing to abide by the results of a referendum that upheld term limits for the president. Bolivia’s constitutional court then ruled term limits violated his rights.
Morales was declared the winner of the October election with a lead of 10 percentage points over his main rival, Mesa, giving him an outright win. But a near 24-hour halt in the count sparked accusations of fraud and led to protests, strikes and roadblocks.
Luis Fernando Camacho, a civic leader from the eastern city of Santa Cruz who has become a symbol of the opposition, said the OAS report clearly demonstrated election fraud and reiterated his call for Morales to resign.
He said he plans to carry a pre-written resignation letter for Morales to sign to the government palace.
“Today, a battle was won but we will reconfigure the constitutional order and democracy, and only when we can be sure that democracy is solid will we go home,” Camacho said to a crowd of cheering supporters in La Paz.
Morales has defended his election win but had said he would adhere to the findings of the OAS audit.
Three people died and hundreds were wounded in often-violent demonstrations since Morales claimed a fourth consecutive term.
On Saturday, police officers were seen joining anti-government protests and the military said it would not “confront the people” over the issue.