When leaders cling to power...

Friday, November 15, 2019

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Many years ago, the great American president, Mr Abraham Lincoln, made this most profound statement: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.”

History is replete with political leaders who — maybe driven by ego and/or an unwillingness to lose the trappings of office — stubbornly cling to power, even in the face of mounting public opposition to their leadership. Recent events in Bolivia and Venezuela come to mind.

In the case of Bolivia, we see where Mr Evo Morales, who became that country's first indigenous president in 2006, was forced to demit office on Sunday after losing the support of the military.

He is now in exile in Mexico, but on Wednesday he boldly declared that he was ready to return to “pacify” his country as weeks of unrest that led to his resignation continues.

Not surprisingly, Mr Morales' ally, Mr Nicolas Maduro, who himself has usurped presidential office in Venezuela, on Tuesday urged Bolivia's military to restore Mr Morales to power, saying the situation in Bolivia “could lead to a civil war”.

“Your commander in chief, by constitutional order and vote of the people, is called Evo Morales Ayma and you must return him to power,” Mr Maduro is reported as saying in Caracas.

Mr Maduro, of course, has no moral authority to lecture anyone on respecting constitutional authority, given his dismal record in Venezuela, which has plunged that country into a political, humanitarian and economic crisis of immense proportions.

The cold, hard fact is that Mr Morales has only himself to blame for his political demise. For when he first came to office, Bolivia's constitution allowed for single presidential mandates only. However, he successfully gained support across party lines to hold, and win, a referendum on a new constitution that increased the limit to two terms.

The Bolivian people, it appeared, were willing to go along with that amendment, as during President Morales' tenure the economy grew to nearly five per cent a year, fuelled mostly by his nationalisation of hydrocarbons in 2006 which coincided with an unprecedented global price boom.

Official figures showed that poverty dropped from 38 per cent in 2005 to 17 per cent last year.

Now, we are told, Bolivia is on track to become the world's fourth-largest producer of lithium by 2021, as it has been able to exploit its rich, natural resources due to increasing foreign investment, particularly from China.

But three years ago Mr Morales, obviously absorbed by an insatiable appetite for the limelight, held another referendum to allow him to run for a third term, claiming that he didn't want to run, “but I don't want to disappoint my people”.

Bolivians, however, voted decisively against the extension.

Despite that vote, a year later the constitutional court, which is filled with Mr Morales' loyalists, declared it his human right to run again, regardless of the constitution. Not surprisingly, his popularity started to wane from that point.

The fact that he was forced to resign is a lesson to all political leaders who believe that they have a divine right to remain in office for life.

We will admit though that Mr Morales, by giving up office, has set an example for Mr Maduro who obviously does not respect the fact that the ultimate rulers of a democracy are the voters, not the legislators.


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