Exiled Morales says fears fraud in next Bolivia vote, or coup after

By Juan Bustamante and Nicolás Misculin

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Bolivian former President Evo Morales, who resigned last year under pressure from the military, says he is confident his political party will win re-run elections scheduled for May, but fears they will be fraudulent or followed by a coup.

In an interview with Reuters in Argentina, where Morales is living in exile, the socialist former leader accused the “right” and the United States of preventing his presidential or Senate candidacies, and of trying to keep his Movement to Socialism (MAS) out of power.

He cited a recently published independent analysis of the election he was initially judged to have won in October by two researchers at MIT’s Election Data and Science Lab as evidence for his claim.

An Organization of American States audit that found serious irregularities in October was flawed, the study said, and concluded that it was “very likely” Morales won the vote by the 10 percentage points needed to avoid a run-off.

Morales has been barred from running in the May polls but is backing his former economy minister, Luis Arce Catacora, as the MAS candidate.

“We are sure that we are going to win the elections. Only a fraud or a coup can get in the way,” Morales said.

“We are preparing internally on how to take care of the vote. And if we win, then the coup,” he added, convinced his rivals would attempt to unseat his party.

Morales, who resigned on Nov. 10 after the OAS audit, called for a severe sanction against OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro and the audit team in response to the new analysis, which has stirred international debate.

“Unfortunately, the method used by the OAS is uncited and untested within the field [of election science], and it is unlikely that this method can be justified within the field,” Jack R. Williams, one of the authors of the study, told Reuters in an email.

The OAS, in a statement on Friday, dismissed the analysis as “unscientific.”

Morales, 60, faces charges of sedition and terrorism related to accusations from the interim government that he has been stirring unrest since resigning.

He did not rule out taking his claims of a coup in October, which he says the OAS promoted, to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Meanwhile, he awaits an opportunity to return to Bolivia and tries to stay in shape with a strict exercise routine.

(Reporting by Juan Bustamante and Nicolas Misculin; additional reporting by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Dan Grebler)