Jeanine Anez declares herself Bolivia interim president

Senator takes control saying Bolivia cannot be left in power vacuum by Evo Morales exit in wake of disputed election.

    Bolivian Senator Jeanine Anez gestures after she declared herself as Interim President of Bolivia, at the balcony of the Presidential Palace, in La Paz, Bolivia November 12, 2019. REUTERS/Marco Bello [Reuters]
    Bolivian Senator Jeanine Anez gestures after she declared herself as Interim President of Bolivia, at the balcony of the Presidential Palace, in La Paz, Bolivia November 12, 2019. REUTERS/Marco Bello [Reuters]

    Jeanine Anez, the head of Bolivia's Senate, declared herself interim president of Bolivia in Congress on Tuesday despite a lack of a quorum to appoint her in a legislative session that was boycotted by legislators from former President Evo Morales' left-wing party.

    "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.

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    Morales, who sought to transform Bolivia as its first indigenous president, landed in Mexico on Tuesday pledging to keep up his political "fight" after resigning in the wake of mass protests over the disputed October 20 election.

    Morales called Anez's move to replace him part of "the most cunning and disastrous coup in history" while a senator from his party called for protests starting on Tuesday.

    In Morales' stronghold of Al Alto, thousands gathered to protest at his departure, saying the former president was the only man who had brought "dignity" to the indigenous community and that they feared renewed discrimination, according to Al Jazeera's Teresa Bo who was in the city.

    "They say they are going to head towards La Paz," Bo said. "They are saying that this will not go unpunished. They say they not only want Morales back, but they want the 'head' of Mesa, the opposition presidential candidate, and Camacho who is leader of the Civic Union of Santa Cruz and these people say is a racist."

    Military fighter jets flew repeatedly over La Paz in a show of force that infuriated Morales loyalists who were already in the city, but were stopped from getting to the main square.

    "We're not afraid!" shouted demonstrators.

    Bolivia Morales supporter
    A supporter of Bolivia's deposed President Evo Morales waves a Wiphala flag during a protest in La Paz. [Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

    "Evo was like a father to me. We had a voice, we had rights," said 35-year-old Maria Apasa. Like Morales, she is a member of the Aymara indigenous group.

    The march followed weeks of clashes and protests against Morales, who was accused by his many detractors of becoming increasingly authoritarian and rigging the election.

    His resignation on Sunday created a power vacuum after the resignation of all other constitutionally-designated successors.

    Mexico exile

    Morales was met at Mexico City's airport by Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard after a flight from Bolivia on a Mexican government plane.

    On his arrival, he repeated allegations he had been forced to resign by a coup.

    "The president of Mexico saved my life," Morales said, thanking President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador for granting him asylum. He promised to "continue the struggle."

    Ebrard said Mexican diplomats had to scramble to arrange a flight path for the plane because some nations initially closed their airspace. The plane stopped in Paraguay to refuel.

    Urged to resign by the military, Morales had stepped down following widespread outrage fed by allegations of electoral fraud in the October election - including a sudden halt to the quick count - that he claimed to have won.

    Bolivia Congress no quorum
    A lone legislator in the Bolivian Congress. Although Anez declared herself interim president the session was suspended because it did not have a quorum. [Manuel Claure/Reuters]

    Anez positioned herself to become interim president by taking temporary control of the Senate and moving into a spot to succeed to the presidency.

    Disputed election

    Morales' departure was a dramatic fall for the one-time llama shepherd from the Bolivian highlands and former coca growers' union leader who as president helped lift millions out poverty, increased social rights and presided more than nearly 14 years of stability and high economic growth in South America's poorest country.

    In the end, however, his downfall was prompted by his insistence on holding onto power.

    Morales ran for a fourth term after refusing to accept the results of a referendum that upheld term limits for the president - restrictions that were later overturned by a top court that critics contend was stacked in his favour.

    Morales stepped aside shortly after accepting calls for a new election by the Organization of American States (OAS), which found irregularities in the election process.

    After Morales resigned, angry supporters set barricades ablaze to close some roads leading to the country's main airport on Monday, while the streets leading to the capital's main square in front of Congress and the presidential palace were ringed with riot police and the military.

    Al Jazeera's Mariana Sanchez in La Paz said tensions were growing.

    "There is a lot of frustration and there are a lot of people - followers of Morales - who are not happy with this decision; this naming of the interim president," she said.

    Morales in Mexico
    Bolivia's former President Evo Morales went into exile in Mexico. [Pedro Pardo/AFP]

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies