Study casting doubt on Bolivian election fraud triggers controversy

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology experts that called into question the alleged election fraud that drove Bolivian President Evo Morales to resign has triggered sniping between left and right-leaning governments in Latin America.

FILE PHOTO: Former Bolivian President Evo Morales holds a paper depicting the image of Bolivia’s interim President Jeanine Anez, during a news conference as a reaction to electoral body decision of banning his intention to run as a senator candidate in May election, in Buenos Aires Argentina February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian/File Photo

The analysis by two researchers in MIT’s Election Data and Science Lab, made public last week, stated that an Organization of American States (OAS) finding that fraud helped Morales win was flawed and concluded that it was “very likely” the socialist president won the October vote by the 10 percentage points needed to avoid a runoff.

The OAS in a statement on Friday dismissed the MIT study as “unscientific.”

Bolivia will run a fresh election in May.

A spokesman for MIT said the study was conducted by its scientists on an independent basis for the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research and did not necessarily reflect the views of the university.

The study prompted Morales, who fled Bolivia first to Mexico and then to Argentina, to call on Sunday for the “democratic” international community to steward the May election carefully.

“The coup-mongerers intend to disqualify our candidates,” Morales wrote on Twitter.

The OAS report cited several violations in the October election including a hidden computer server designed to tilt the vote toward Morales, who served as Bolivia’s president for 14 years. Morales resigned amid violence in Bolivia in the aftermath of the election fraud allegations, declaring he was the victim of a “coup.”

Morales has said he will return to Bolivia, but has been charged by the caretaker government with sedition and blocked from running as a candidate for senator.

Leaders of a number of left-leaning Latin American countries supportive of Morales have weighed in since the release of the MIT report, with Mexico asking the OAS to clarify its findings.

Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro reiterated his claim that the OAS is a tool of the United States, posting on Twitter on Sunday that the MIT study was “more proof that the Ministry of the Colonies (OAS) threatens the will of the free peoples of the continent.”

Argentine President Alberto Fernandez said the report’s findings justified his continued support for Morales.

“We demand the prompt democratization of Bolivia, with the full participation of the Bolivian people and without prescriptions of any kind,” Fernandez wrote on Twitter.

Conservative leaders in Latin America backed the OAS.

Ernesto Araujo, Brazil’s foreign minister, said fraud in Bolivia’s election had been “crystal clear”.

Tuto Quiroga, a former Bolivian president who is running in the next election, called the MIT study a “rehash of old lies.” Quiroga pointed out that Morales had himself asked the OAS to review the October election, called a fresh vote after the OAS report on the matter and dismissed members of Bolivia’s electoral board.

Reporting by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Will Dunham and Grant McCool