LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Bolivian President Evo Morales announced his resignation Sunday under mounting pressure from the military and the public after his re-election victory triggered weeks of fraud allegations and deadly protests.
The decision came after a day of fast-moving developments, including an offer from Morales to hold a new election. The crisis deepened dramatically when the country’s military chief went on national television to call on him to step down.
“I am sending my resignation letter to the Legislative Assembly of Bolivia,” the 60-year-old socialist leader said, portraying his departure as the culmination of a “coup d’etat.”
He added: “I ask you to stop attacking the brothers and sisters, stop burning and attacking.”
Before Morales had even finished his statement, people began honking their car horns in La Paz and other cities and took to the streets to celebrate, waving Bolivian flags and setting off fireworks.
It was not immediately clear who would succeed him. Morales’ vice president also resigned, as did the Senate president, who was next in line.
Morales was the first member of Bolivia’s indigenous population to become president and was in power for 13 years and nine months, the longest span in the country’s history.
But his claim to have won a fourth term last month set off unrest that left three people dead and over 100 injured in clashes between his supporters and opponents.
Earlier in the day Sunday, the Organization of American States said in a preliminary report that it had found a “heap of observed irregularities” in the Oct. 20 election and that a new vote should be held.
Morale agreed to that. But within hours, military chief Gen. Williams Kaliman made it clear that would not be sufficient.
“After analyzing the situation of internal conflict, we ask the president to resign, allowing peace to be restored and stability to be maintained for the good of our Bolivia,” Kaliman said.
The leadership crisis escalated in the hours leading up Morales’ resignation. Two government ministers in charge of mines and hydrocarbons, the Chamber of Deputies president and three other pro-government legislators announced their resignations. Some said opposition supporters had threatened their families.
In addition, the head of Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal stepped down after the release of the OAS findings. Also, the attorney general’s office said it would investigate the tribunal’s judges for alleged fraud.
Morales was first elected in 2006 and went on to preside over a commodities-fed economic boom in South America’s poorest country. The former leader of a coca growers union, he paved roads, sent Bolivia’s first satellite into space and curbed inflation.
But many who were once excited by his fairy-tale rise grew wary of his reluctance to leave power.
He ran for a fourth term after refusing to abide by the results of a referendum that upheld term limits for the president. He was able to run because Bolivia’s constitutional court disallowed such limits.
After the Oct. 20 vote, Morales declared himself the outright winner even before official results indicated he obtained just enough support to avoid a runoff with opposition leader and former President Carlos Mesa. A 24-hour lapse in releasing results fueled suspicions of vote-rigging.
The OAS sent a team to look into the election. It called for a new contest with a new electoral tribunal.
“Mindful of the heap of observed irregularities, it’s not possible to guarantee the integrity of the numbers and give certainty of the results,” the OAS said in a statement.
During the unrest, protesters torched the headquarters of local electoral tribunal offices and set up roadblocks that paralyzed parts of Bolivia.
The pressure on Morales increased ominously on Saturday when police on guard outside the presidential palace abandoned their posts, and police officers retreated to their barracks in at least three cities.
Associated Press writer Luis Andres Henao in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contributed to this report.