A new study published Thursday found no evidence of fraud in Bolivia’s October presidential election, casting doubt on prior findings issued by the Organization of American States.
The election was won in the first round by longtime leftist president Evo Morales, but the results were ultimately thrown out after the OAS accused Morales’ government of manipulating the results.
Morales was ousted from power in a military coup on November 10 amid widespread unrest stemming from the fraud allegations.
The former president has unequivocally denied the fraud accusations and has accepted asylum in neighboring Argentina. He has been barred from returning to Bolivia by the de facto interim government that swept to power following the coup.
The new study published by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Election Data and Science Lab concluded that it is “very likely” that Morales’ first-round election victory was in fact legitimate.
“As specialists in election integrity, we find that the statistical evidence does not support the claim of fraud in Bolivia’s October election,” the authors wrote in an article published by the Washington Post Thursday.
The analysis stands in sharp contrast with the findings of the OAS, which reported to have found clear evidence of “intentional manipulation” on the part of Morales’ government.
Based in Washington, the OAS is an intergovernmental organization that often monitors elections in Latin America.
The controversy over the election stems back to a decision made by Bolivia’s electoral commission to stop updating the preliminary “quick count,” or TREP results and an ensuing statement made by the OAS.
With about 84 percent of votes counted, the unofficial TREP results showed Morales leading his nearest opponent by about 8 points – shy of the 10 point margin necessary to avoid a runoff election.
At that point, the electoral commission stopped updating the TREP results. When it was resumed about 24 hours later after pressure from the OAS and the opposition, the results showed Morales had cleared the 10-point margin and was on course to win in the first round. The final, official results showed Morales had won by 10.5 points.
But before the official results could be posted, the OAS issued a statement expressing “deep concern” over the supposedly “hard-to-explain” and “drastic” increase in Morales’ lead while the quick count was suspended, implying that the results were a fraud.
Picking up on the OAS’ statement, major media outlets around the globe erroneously reported that the vote count itself had been suspended, apparently confusing the quick count with the official results.
‘Without Basis in Fact’
The fraud allegations stemming from the OAS’ statement sparked weeks of violence, terror, and unrest, culminating in Morales being deposed in a coup.
“The OAS seems to have made statements regarding the preliminary election results without basis in fact,” Jack Williams, a co-author of the new study, said.
“Morales appears to have been heading toward a first-round victory prior to the interruption of the preliminary count. The results once the count resumed are in line with the prior trend.”
The new study was done independently and was commissioned by researchers at the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, which reached similar findings in a series of reports dating back to November.
“The study, commissioned by CEPR to independently verify its November 2019 study, reaches many of the same conclusions as that earlier statistical analysis, and replicates some of the most significant statistical findings showing consistent voting trends in favor of Morales,” the think-tank said in a press release Thursday.
The prior reports published by CEPR found that the rise in Morales’ lead was not “drastic” but was in fact “steady” and “gradual.”
Not only was the increase not “hard-to-explain” but it was entirely predictable based on the fact that the late votes were coming from rural regions where Morales is particularly popular, they found.
In December, researchers from CEPR were joined by 116 economists and statisticians who signed a letter published in the Guardian calling on the OAS to “retract its misleading statements about the election, which have contributed to the political conflict.”
Four U.S. Congressmen also wrote a letter to the OAS in November seeking a response to CEPR’s findings.
“Still no answer to anyone from OAS. Because they can’t,” Mark Weisbrot, the co-director of CEPR, said on Twitter Thursday.
While the new study is the latest to call the OAS’ findings into the question, others have also cast doubt on the organization’s objectivity.
In a December interview with The Globe Post, CEPR analyst Jake Johnston raised concerns that the OAS was becoming increasingly political under the leadership of Secretary-General Luis Almagro.
“This situation today with the OAS, I mean, you’ve seen the OAS move extremely close to Washington now,” he said.
“They get around 60 percent of their budget there. And in terms of policy, that’s been abundantly more clear under the leadership of Almagro.”
Good lord. Given the fact the entire Morales government was toppled over accusations of election fraud, the OAS has *a lot* to answer for.
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) February 27, 2020
As an ally of Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro, Morales was viewed as a geopolitical foe by the administration of Donald Trump, who “applauded” the ouster of Morales as a “significant moment for democracy in the Western Hemisphere.”
In remarks at the OAS on January 17, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo endorsed Almagro’s bid for reelection as secretary-general, citing the OAS’ work in Bolivia among other reasons.
“[The OAS] honored the Bolivian people’s courageous demand for a free and fair election, and for democracy,” he said.
“These actions didn’t happen within the OAS by accident. It took hard work. They happened because the member states – you all – decided to use the organization to get results. All of us, together.”
Morales was Bolivia’s first indigenous president and oversaw a period of dramatic economic growth during his nearly-14-year tenure.
Though Morales ran into controversy for seeking a fourth term, he and his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) Party are revered among the country’s historically marginalized indigenous majority as millions were lifted out of poverty during his presidency.
Following the coup, Morales made a dramatic escape to Mexico before ultimately moving to Argentina. He has since been charged with crimes including “terrorism” and “sedition” by the interim government of Jeanine Anez, a little known right-wing Senator who declared herself president during a brief power vacuum.
After initially vowing she would serve only in a caretaker role, Anez announced last month that she would be a candidate in the upcoming presidential election, which will be held in May.
The latest opinion polls show MAS candidate Luis Arce with a substantial lead over Anez and other right-wing candidates, though some have raised fears that the interim government is waging a “lawfare” campaign intended to undermine the MAS’ electoral standing.
Editors Note: An earlier version of this article referred to the new analysis as an “MIT study.” The article has been updated to clarify that the study was done independently by researchers from MIT’s Election Data and Science Lab.
More on the Subject