Evo Morales has been attacking Bolivia’s democracy for many years. Since coming to office in 2006, the socialist president has concentrated ever more authority in his own hands, denounced the opposition in aggressive terms, and placed loyalists in key institutions, from the country’s public broadcaster to its highest court.
Like many populists on both the left and the right, Morales claimed to wield power in the name of the people. But after weeks of mass protests in La Paz and other Bolivian cities, and the rapid crumbling of his support both within law enforcement and his own political party, it was his loss of legitimacy among the majority of his own countrymen that forced Morales to resign yesterday.
What he and some of his most credulous Western supporters described as a coup was in fact something very different: proof that Bolivians—like the citizens of many other countries around the world—resent arbitrary rule. The longer they have suffered from oppression, the more they have come to value the democratic institutions that are now threatened by populists around the globe.
As Morales started to come up against the two-term limit for presidents stipulated by the constitution he himself had championed in 2009, his enmity toward any semblance of the rule of law became more and more evident. In 2016, he held a binding referendum that would allow him to stay in office indefinitely. When a majority of Bolivians voted down the proposal, Morales resorted to his tight control of previously independent institutions to get his way. In 2017, the country’s supreme court ruled that limits on the length of his tenure in office would violate Morales’s human rights.