Bolivia's first general election in 12 years got under way on Sunday (9 July) amidst accusations of electoral fraud and intimidation by the military.
Bolivia's first general election in 12 years got under way on Sunday (9 July) amidst accusations of electoral fraud and intimidation by the military. Opposition parties alleged that Bolivian troops had occupied rural areas of Southern Tarija province. The opposition requested that an international observer be sent to the region. But the ruling military government has denied all charges of electoral irregularities, and says that the leftists are planning to use violence to disrupt the voting.
SYNOPSIS: Bolivia has more than two million voters, many of them peasants, and all are required by law to cast their votes. Officially, the present right-wing government of President Huge Banzer is not supporting any candidate. But the armed forces and top government officials have come out openly in support of former Air Force Commander, General Juan Pereda Asbun, as their choice to succeed General Banzer.
Some 40 per cent of the electorate is illiterate and consequently the eight ballot papers available are in distinctive colours. Human rights organisations have sent observers to the elections, and among them are Jorge Cuisana from Ecuador and England's Lord Avebury. So far, observers have presented more than a thousand allegations of electoral irregularities.
Bolivia has been under virtual military rule since 1964. And a victory for General Pereda will give the military a major say in running the country.
One observer who's in La Paz for the elections is Father Julio Tamiri, who is president of the Permanent Human Rights Assembly in Bolivia. He said that Government election officials had registered phantom voters, particularly in the more remote areas of the country, thus preventing registration of genuine labourers who might vote against a Government-approved candidate. Father Tumiri said that, in addition, the political and administrative authorities had made it difficult for opposition voters in rural areas to reach ballot boxes.
General Pereda's closest rival in the elections' according to opinion polls, is former president, Dr. Hernan Siles Zuazo. He has campaigned on a leftist ticket and is backed by the Bolivian Communist party. Dr. Zuazo has also levelled charges of electoral fraud at the government and warned that popular resistance could erupt. Dr. Zuazo said that if General Pereda was elected fraudulently the now Government would not last very long. He said that this would lead to a series of internal coups and undo the work of the Leftists, who wanted to institutionalise democracy and freedom in Bolivia.