Rival factions of governing party come to blows

by Pelican Press
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Rival factions of governing party come to blows

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By Vanessa Buschschlüter, BBC News

Reuters A man reacts during clashes between supporters of Bolivia's President Luis Arce and supporters of Bolivia's former President Evo Morales outside the Supreme Electoral Court, in La Paz, Bolivia July 10, 2024. Reuters

Supporters of the two rival Mas politicians faced off in La Paz

Rival factions of the governing party in Bolivia have clashed in the city of La Paz.

Footage showed party faithful throwing stones, wielding sticks and kicking and punching each other.

The Movement Toward Socialism (Mas) is deeply split, with some backing the current president, Luis Arce, and others rallying to former president Evo Morales.

Their rivalry has become more fierce as the general election scheduled for August 2025 approaches.

The Movement Towards Socialism has been a formidable force in Bolivian politics.

With the exception of a one-year hiatus between November 2019 and November 2020, its candidates have been presiding over the country for the past 18 years.

But a rift between its two most well-known leaders has divided its followers, who turned on each other on Wednesday outside the offices of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE).

Both Mr Morales and President Arce had arrived at the TSE for a discussion with leaders of other parties about next year’s general election.

The clash outside the electoral tribunal lasted several hours with supporters of Mr Arce shouting his nickname and “you’re not alone!” while those of Mr Morales yelled “Evo president, Evo president”.

The mayor of La Paz, who was on the scene appealing for calm, was injured when he was hit in the face by a stone.

The brawl shows how bitter relations between supporters of the ex-president and the current leader have become.

For a long time, Mr Morales was the undisputed head of the Mas, leading it to election wins in 2005, 2009 and 2014.

However, his decision to run for a fourth consecutive term as president in the 2019 election drew criticism from some inside his party’s ranks – as well as from opposition forces.

Those opposed to another run by Mr Morales argued that it went against the will of the people, as Bolivians had voted against scrapping presidential term limits in 2016.

EPA Former Bolivian President Evo Morales (C) arrives at the Supreme Electoral Court headquarters in La Paz, Bolivia, 10 July 2024. EPA

Evo Morales was president from 2006 to 2019

But those backing the president said that a 2017 constitutional court decision lifting term limits made his fourth candidacy legally sound.

Mr Morales was declared the winner of the 2019 election, but resigned weeks later amid continuing protests triggered by reports of irregularities in the vote count and went into exile.

Mr Morales has long maintained that he was forced to resign by the military and that his departure from office constituted a “coup”.

A caretaker government led by right-wing senator Jeanine Áñez led Bolivia until new polls were scheduled.

In the rerun of the election held the following year, Mr Morales’s former finance minister and firm ally, Luis Arce, ran for the Mas party and won by a landslide.

Mr Morales returned to the country, but soon fell out with Mr Arce.

In September 2023, Mr Morales announced that he would be standing in the 2025 election for the Mas party, putting him on a collision course with Mr Arce who is expected to run for re-election.

The rift between the two men has widened even further in the aftermath of the events of 24 June – the day when the commander of the Bolivian army, Gen Juan José Zúñiga, appeared to launch a coup against President Arce.

Mr Morales at first denounced Gen Zúñiga’s actions, but the former president has since alleged that the incident was staged by President Arce himself, in order to boost his popularity.

Mr Arce has denied staging a “self-coup” and has dismissed comments by Gen Zúñiga, who said he had acted on Mr Arce’s request.

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