LA PAZ: Bolivia’s Senate approved a bill Saturday that could open the door to new elections without ex-president Evo Morales, as the caretaker government met with protesters to end weeks of unrest.
At least 32 people have been killed in violence that erupted after a disputed election on October 20, with protesters’ blockades causing severe fuel and food shortages in La Paz and other cities.
The Senate approved the proposed law after an hours-long session that began Saturday morning.
It is now before the lower house, which is expected to vote on the bill later Saturday. Interim president Jeanine Anez will need to sign it before it can become law.
Among other things, the bill annuls the results of the October 20 vote and allows for new elections to be held.
Crucially, it bars candidates who served in both of the two previous terms from seeking reelection for the same position. That would prevent Morales from contesting the presidency in the new ballot.
Congress also needs to agree on a new seven-member electoral court, after members of the previous panel were removed for allegedly manipulating results.
New elections are seen as key to ending Bolivia’s worst political upheaval in 16 years, which has deepened divisions between indigenous people loyal to Morales and Bolivia’s mainly city-dwelling middle and upper classes.
Morales’ Movement for Socialism party holds a majority in both houses of Congress, but is divided over the left-wing leader and his political future.
Morales, who had been seeking a fourth term, claimed he won last month’s election, but opposition groups said the vote count was rigged.
An audit by the Washington-based Organization of American States found irregularities in the results.
The Senate vote comes a day after the caretaker government filed a criminal complaint accusing Morales — Bolivia’s first indigenous president who served for nearly 14 years — of “sedition and terrorism,” after he allegedly called on supporters to maintain blockades.
If Morales — who fled to Mexico after resigning on November 10 — were charged and convicted, he would face a maximum penalty of 30 years in jail.
His former top minister Juan Ramon Quintana, whose whereabouts are unknown, is also accused of the same crimes.