Bolivia’s Democracy Faces a Test
An audit of the contested elections results is underway amid protests, with President Evo Morales confident he has nothing to lose.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Protests escalate in Bolivia as OAS officials conduct an election audit, the U.S. House formally backs the impeachment inquiry, and the Islamic State announces a new leader.
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Protests in Bolivia as Election Audit Begins
Protests over Bolivia’s contentious presidential election result have escalated this week, with strikes and blockades paralyzing the country and a violent demonstration leaving two people dead. President Evo Morales—in power since 2006—was declared the outright winner of the Oct. 20 vote, narrowly avoiding a runoff against Carlos Mesa. But protests erupted when the preliminary vote count was halted without explanation.
Now, the Organization of American States (OAS) has sent a 30-person team to conduct a binding audit of the results, which began today. It’s not clear if the review will ease tensions. Amid allegations of irregularities, many protesters now believe the election was rigged. Mesa, the runner-up, doesn’t see it as a solution and has encouraged the protesters to stay in the streets.
What are the protesters’ demands? This week, the unrest in Bolivia has reached a level not seen since 2003, before Morales was in office. At first, opposition activists were calling for a runoff between Mesa and Morales: The Oct. 25 vote count shows Morales winning by just over 10 points, or just enough to avoid a runoff. But many protesters are now demanding that Morales be removed from office.
Where does Morales stand? Ahead of the OAS audit—which he supports—Morales called for the protesters to stand down. The president still has broad support, but a letter signed by members of the military on Wednesday indicated they wouldn’t participate in a crackdown on demonstrators. The letter also noted the president’s repeated efforts to bypass Bolivia’s term limits. After losing a referendum to extend his tenure in 2016, Morales had the constitutional court approve his plan to run for a fourth term instead.
What We’re Following Today
U.S. House formally backs impeachment inquiry. The U.S. House has approved a significant resolution to formally authorize the next steps in its impeachment probe of U.S. President Donald Trump by a margin of 232 to 196, with no Republicans and only two Democrats breaking ranks. Democrats could bring charges against Trump before the end of the year. Meanwhile on Thursday, Tim Morrison—the top Eastern Europe official on the National Security Council—corroborated testimony that Trump had appeared to seek a quid pro quo with Ukraine.
Who is the Islamic State’s new leader? On Thursday, the Islamic State confirmed via the messaging app Telegram that its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, died over the weekend during a U.S. raid in Syria and announced his successor, identified as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi. The name is assumed to be a nom de guerre, with Quraishi meant to indicate that he is descended from the prophet Mohammed’s tribe—a requirement to be a caliph. ISIS likely wants to show that it is keeping up the caliphate, despite its losses.
United States to withhold aid to Lebanon. After the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the Trump administration will withhold $105 million in security aid to the country, Reuters reports. The State Department reportedly did not provide a reason for the move, but the United States has expressed concern over the growing presence of Hezbollah in Lebanon’s government. An official told Reuters the aid withdrawal could leave more room for Russian influence in Lebanon.
Keep an Eye On
Conflict in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. For nine months, violence has intensified in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where a military campaign against the Rohingya minority triggered a mass exodus in 2017. Now the Myanmar army is fighting against a Buddhist insurgent group, the Arakan Army. But much of the world is unaware that Rakhine is a war zone, Jonathan Gorvett reports for FP.
China’s plan for Hong Kong. At the end of a secret meeting of top Communist Party leaders, China has announced a vague new plan to “safeguard national security” in Hong Kong after months of anti-government protests. The official communique contained scant details, but it could mean that Chinese authorities will impose new security laws on the territory. A mass rally is expected in Hong Kong this weekend.
Indonesia’s defense minister. When Indonesian President Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, defeated retired Lt. Gen. Prabowo Subianto in the May election, riots raged in Jakarta. Now Jokowi has announced Prabowo will be his defense minister. The move could have extraordinary consequences for Indonesia’s democracy, Aaron Connelly and Evan A. Laksmana write for FP.
Later today on FP’s First Person podcast: In the summer of 2014, three Israeli teens disappeared in the West Bank and were found dead 18 days later—killed by Palestinian militants. A group of Israelis then kidnapped and killed a Palestinian teenager in an act of revenge. The story of the murders is told in the 10-part series Our Boys, now airing on HBO. One of its directors, Hagai Levi, speaks with deputy editor Sarah Wildman.
Odds and Ends
Netflix hasn’t been required to abide by Turkey’s censorship rules—until recently. Beginning in September, streaming services had to apply for a license after new internet regulations took effect. Now, Netflix is editing out cigarettes and may be forced to censor same-sex relationships. It’s a growing global trend, the New York Times reports.
That’s it for today.
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