Right-wing senator Jeanine Anez was unknown to many Bolivians before she stepped out waving a Bible on the balcony of the government palace.
A longtime opponent of deposed leftist President Evo Morales, she stepped into the power vacuum left when he was deposed in a military coup on Sunday.
Now all eyes in the country are on Anez, a 52-year-old lawyer from the northeastern region of Beni, bordering Brazil.
As second deputy speaker of the Senate, Anez was sworn in by her right-wing allies after all the officials in the Constitutional line to act as interim president were also coerced into resigning.
Speaking from Mexico where he has accepted asylum, Morales denounced Anez’s power grab, noting that there was not a legislative quorum and that most of the MP’s from his MAS party were under threat and therefore not present in the chamber.
The deposed president branded her “a coup-mongering right-wing senator” and said she had “declared herself… interim president without a legislative quorum, surrounded by a group of accomplices.”
Fresh from being sworn in, she posed with a purple Bible in her hand and the green, yellow and red presidential sash across her shoulder, waving to supporters with a broad smile.
An anti-indigenous, evangelical Christian, she immediately made a point of marking herself out from Morales, a socialist who had done away with religious oaths of office.
At one point she raised above her head a large, old leather-bound copy of the Gospels.
“God has allowed the Bible to come back into the (presidential) palace. May he bless us,” she said.
In the past, Anez has made derogatory statements about the country’s indigenous majority, who make up more than 60 percent of the population and largely support Morales and his Movement Toward Socialism Party (MAS).
“I dream of a #Bolivia free of Indigenous satanic rites, the city is not for Indians, they should back to the mountains or the fields,” the interim president tweeted in 2013.
Morales was the first indigenous president of Bolivia and enacted a slate of social programs that lifted millions of indigenous people out of poverty.
Anez cast herself as the only one in a position to lead the country out of its crisis, sparked by disputed, unsubstantiated claims that Morales rigged his re-election last month.
“According to constitutional order, it is my role to take up this challenge with the sole aim of calling new elections,” she said in televised comment.
“I am committed to take all measures necessary to pacify the country,” she said later at her swearing-in session.
‘Not Taking This Lying Down’
Anez became the South American country’s 66th president and the second woman to hold the post.
She promised to hold fresh elections “as soon as possible,” but some analysts have called into question whether any new elections could be fair under the current circumstances.
“What kind of elections can you have when you have a big sector of the population that’s under attack and when you have the leaders of what was the governing party that are now – in many cases – in hiding or seeking exile?” Alex Main, the director of international policy at the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research told The Globe Post.
“It’s hard to imagine very free and fair and inclusive elections taking place in this kind of context.”
Anez’ presidency is also rejected as illegitimate by a large, majority-indigenous segment of the population, thousands of whom have descended on the country’s major cities, vowing to overturn the coup.
“Now you have a big counter-protest movement coming from Morales supporters who are not taking this lying down,” Main said.
“So now we’re looking at an increasingly dangerous situation, particularly as the armed forces and police seem to be very, very politicized and taking the side of the opposition.”
The Globe Post’s Bryan Bowman contributed reporting to this article.
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