He's not running, but Morales looms large in Bolivia vote

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FILE - In this Sept. 19, 2020 file photo, a supporter, wearing a mask depicting former President Evo Morales, strikes a pose during a campaign rally for Luis Arce Catacora, the Bolivian presidential candidate for the Movement Towards Socialism Party, or MAS, in La Paz, Bolivia. MAS is the party founded by Morales who was ousted in November 2019, after several weeks of demonstrations that erupted over allegations of fraud in last year's October presidential election that Morales claimed to have won. (AP Photo/Juan Karita, File)

LA PAZ – Even in exile, Evo Morales looms over Bolivia’s election next month.

National rifts that contributed to chaos in Bolivia in 2019 threaten to destabilize the Oct. 18 vote and its aftermath nearly one year after Morales, Bolivia's first Indigenous president from the Aymara group, was forced to resign following disputed vote results, protests, violence and a military call for him to go.

The country is divided mainly along ethnic, regional and socioeconomic lines, and between those who applaud Morales as a voice for the historically poor and disenfranchised and those who say he became increasingly corrupt and authoritarian during 14 years in power. The interim government that replaced him has also been accused of undermining Bolivia’s democratic institutions, including the judiciary.

The feud has reverberated outside the landlocked country of 12 million people, echoing ideological divisions from an era when the political left and right in Latin America were more clearly defined.

In a speech to the virtual U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, interim President Jeanine Áñez accused neighboring Argentina, where Morales is in self-exile, of ″systematic and abusive harassment″ of Bolivia’s institutions and supporting a “violent conspiracy” led by the former president.

Argentina’s Foreign Ministry said it was regrettable that Áñez, who has withdrawn from the Bolivian election race, would try to involve Argentina in her country’s internal politics and urged her to focus energy on ensuring ″free and transparent″ elections.

In a letter Tuesday to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Bernie Sanders and 27 other members of the U.S. Congress expressed concern that the Organization of American States, based in Washington, had been invited to monitor the Bolivian election. The letter alleged a “lack of accountability and transparency” in an OAS audit that found evidence of fraud and other irregularities in 2019 election results indicating Morales had won.

Morales, a 60-year-old former coca farmer and union leader, faces terrorism and other charges in Bolivia and is not an election candidate this year. Some human rights advocates believe the charges amount to political persecution of Morales, who is basically in campaign mode, talking up his past administration's achievements.