By Andres Oppenheimer
Shame on them!
Mexico’s President Andres Manuel López Obrador and Argentina’s President-elect Alberto Fernandez have sided with Cuba and Venezuela in rushing to accept Bolivian ruler Evo Morales’ dubious Oct. 20 election victory. According to a 92-member international electoral-observation mission, that election may have been fraudulent.
Morales ran for a fourth term in the Oct. 20 elections, even though the country’s constitution originally prohibited him from serving more than two consecutive terms. And what happened during the election’s vote-counting process was just as scandalous.
At 8 p.m. on election night, the Morales-controlled election tribunal issued a statement showing that, with 83% of the votes counted, Morales was not getting enough votes to avoid a second-round election. The conventional wisdom in Bolivia was that he would most likely lose a runoff vote, because most of the half-dozen opposition candidates would have united against him.
But the vote-counting system mysteriously went down on election night shortly after the 8 p.m. release of the first results, and remained down for the next 23 hours. When the next batch of results were released a day later, Morales has mysteriously reversed the trend, and was now close to winning in the first round.
Hours later, Morales proclaimed his victory in the first-round vote, while international election monitors were shaking their heads in disbelief.
But on Oct. 28, the day after Argentina’s presidential elections, President-elect Fernandez gave his official blessing to Morales’ questionable reelection. In a tweet, Fernandez thanked Morales “for your friendship,” and sent him his congratulations for “your electoral triumph.”
Mexico’s president López Obrador shortly thereafter said: “I congratulated over the phone President-elect Alberto Fernandez of Argentina and Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, who won in free and democratic elections in their countries.”
Fernandez has said that his first foreign trip as president-elect will be to Mexico. He has said that he will be a close ally of López Obrador on foreign-policy issues. For instance, the two have announced that they will no longer abide by their respective countries’ previous positions of declaring Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro an “illegitimate leader.”
Observers from the 34-country Organization of American States that monitored the vote at the invitation of Bolivia’s government’s issued a statement saying that the 23-hour interruption in the release of election results was “difficult to explain.” Furthermore, it said that the post-interruption results suggesting a first-round victory by Morales “did not coincide” with the outcome of two quick counts carried out by reliable independent companies.
The OAS election observers concluded that the Morales victory was doubtful, and that “the best option would be to convene a second-round vote.” The United States, the 28-country European Union and Latin America’s biggest democracies — including Brazil — supported the OAS recommendation for a runoff election. Only the Cuban and Venezuelan dictatorships rushed to congratulate Morales for his alleged “election victory.”
As angry Bolivians took to the streets to protest what leading opposition candidate Carlos Mesa denounced as a massive fraud. Bolivia’s authoritarian ruler offered the OAS to conduct an audit of the vote, but Mesa told me in an interview that Morales’ offer was “rhetorical and demagogic,” because it came with several conditions designed to make it worthless.
Among other things, Bolivia’s regime said that the final recommendations of a OAS audit could not be mandatory, and that it could not include an examination of voting conditions of the election process before election day. The OAS observation mission had denounced widespread use of government resources for the Morales campaign.
López Obrador and Fernandez’s stand on Bolivia is worrisome. How did they conclude that Morales had won a democratic election, when the OAS mission had ruled the opposite? Why did they rush to side with Cuba and Venezuela and congratulate Morales, without waiting for an internationally observed vote recount, or a runoff election?
Their active support for Morales’ tainted election is a bad omen for Argentina, for Mexico, and for Latin America. If López Obrador and Fernandez don’t respect democracy abroad, they will be creating a dangerous precedent for not respecting it at home.