It was the most contested election in the history of Bolivia since the return to democracy. Last November, President Evo Morales, just re-elected for a controversial fourth term, was finally forced into exile before accusations of electoral fraud, supported by a report by the Organization of American States (OAS).

However, a study whose conclusions were published Sunday June 7 by the New York Times, shows that this report could be wrong. This new expertise is based on the data provided by the Bolivian electoral authorities supplied to the American daily newspaper.

"We looked closely at the statistical evidence from the OAS and found problems with their method," said Francisco Rodríguez, one of the researchers who conducted the study. "Once these problems are corrected, the results of the OAS become blurred and there is no longer any statistical evidence of fraud."

For this study, Francisco Rodriguez, an economist specializing in Latin America at Tulane University in Louisiana, teamed up with Dorothy Kronick from the University of Pennsylvania and Nicolás Idrobo, a doctoral student specializing in statistical studies. Their study has not yet gone through the peer review stage, nor has it been made public.

An OAS press release that served as dynamite

The October 2019 elections took place in a particularly polarized Bolivia.

"Bolivia is then very divided, in particular because of the constitutional referendum of February 2016. Evo Morales wanted to modify the Constitution to be able to represent himself indefinitely. The Bolivians said: 'no, we will not change the Constitution for you'. The fact that Evo Morales is going strong has polarized the situation, "explains Christine Delfour, professor of contemporary Latin American civilization at Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée University and specialist in Bolivia, interviewed by France 24." It is this passage in force, more than the program of the Mas [the movement of Evo Morales, note] I was convinced that if Evo Morales had presented a successor, the Mas would have won easily. being tight was obvious from the previous three years. "

>> Read also our long format: The Evo years

Before the election, analysts believe that, for the first time, Evo Morales may be forced into a second round. A trend that is confirmed during election day: before the closing of polling stations, Evo Morales has only a slight lead over his main opponent, former President Carlos Mesa.  

Then, for 24 hours, the count stops unexplained. When he resumes, Evo Morales has a sufficient lead to avoid tossing. The opposition cries out for fraud. Protests erupt across the country in an insurgent climate.

"The OAS was ambiguous. The organization followed the growing legalization movement in Latin America. And, faced with the floating of the executive and the inability of Evo Morales to organize his succession, he engulfed himself in the interstice to 'shoot down' the last indigenous-popular experience of the continent, "says Christine Delfour. "The support of the OAS has strengthened opposition."

The two main opponents, Carlos Mesa and Luis Fernando Camacho, have also used the organization as an argument of authority in their attacks on the president. The OAS has indeed published a press release in which it considers that the presidential election is tainted with "fraud" and requests the calling of a new ballot.

Soon released by the army and many senior officials including former allies, Evo Morales resigned and went into exile in Mexico, then in Argentina, while continuing to claim his innocence

A distorted OAS report 

The study of the three American researchers said to demonstrate that the OAS used poor statistical models to draw its conclusions. However, the authors remain measured. While the OAS statistical method is problematic, their own study does not exclude the possibility that fraud may have taken place, it just says that there is no statistical evidence of it.

Prof. Irfan Nooruddin, the OAS consultant who performed their statistical analysis, told the New York Times that the new study was skewing its work and was flawed. He refused to provide his data to the study authors, despite repeated requests, as well as to share his working methods.

The OAS defends its conclusions: "You are doing a statistical exercise on falsified documents," she said. "The question is not whether the false numbers add up. The question is whether or not they are false - and they are."

Since the departure of Evo Morales, Jeanine Añez has been proclaimed president. This curator from Catholic circles had the mission of organizing a new presidential election within six months to restore conditional order. Originally scheduled for May 3, it will take place on September 6 due to the Covid-19 epidemic.

Innocent of electoral fraud, the Mas could once again pull out of the game: "The management of Añez is highly criticized, numerous corruption scandals have erupted and its management of the Covid-19 considered to be disastrous. Opposite, the electoral base du Mas is still there. Progressives who were hesitant to vote Evo because of the referendum could return from Mas ", says Christine Delfour. Mas’s presidential candidate Luis Arce, former Minister of the Economy of Evo Morales, is also leading the polls.

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