Bolivia’s Morales facing fight as he seeks fourth term

An indigenous woman remains near propaganda posters of Bolivian President Evo Morales in El Alto, Bolivia on October 19, 2019. (File/AFP)
Updated 20 October 2019

Bolivia’s Morales facing fight as he seeks fourth term

  • The latest shows Morales with 32 percent of the vote, while his main challenger, former president Carlos Mesa, has 27 percent
  • In an eve-of-poll message on Twitter, Morales called on voters in the resource rich Andean state to participate “peacefully and actively” in the elections

LA PAZ: Bolivians vote Sunday to decide whether to give leftist President Evo Morales a controversial fourth term or turn their backs on the country’s first indigenous leader amid allegations of corruption and authoritarianism.

Morales’ popularity has been waning and unlike his previous three election victories, opinion polls say this one is likely to go to an unprecedented second round runoff on December 15.

The latest shows Morales with 32 percent of the vote, while his main challenger, former president Carlos Mesa, has 27 percent.

In an eve-of-poll message on Twitter, Morales called on voters in the resource rich Andean state to participate “peacefully and actively” in the elections.

Mesa said he feared the elections would be fraudulent because of Morales’ powerful grip on key organs of state, and expressed his concerns in a meeting with observers from the Organization of American States.

Morales said the maturity of Bolivia’s electorate would make Sunday’s polls a triumph of democracy which would be “an example for delegations and observers who visit us.”

Morales, who will turn 60 next week, is already the longest-serving president in Bolivian history, having been at the helm for 13 years.
But he stands accused of corruption and many are enraged at his refusal to step aside, even though the South American country’s constitution bars him from running.

“Power has replaced policies aimed at the whole population by others that only serve the interests of certain sectors,” political commentator Maria Teresa Zegada told AFP.

“Opposition leaders have been persecuted, all of which has caused citizens unease and given the impression that democracy was in danger,” said Zegada.

Mesa has no party of his own but is backed by a minor center-left party. He also has support from a collective of other small parties.

The journalist and historian, who was president from 2003-2005, was a vocal critic of Morales even before announcing his latest bid for office.

Bolivia’s 2009 constitution, promulgated by Morales himself, limits a president to two consecutive terms of office.

Then in a 2016 referendum, voters defeated Morales’s bid to secure public support to remove term limits, but his government rejected the result.

The constitutional court, stacked with Morales loyalists, ruled it was his right to seek re-election.

Morales points to a decade of economic stability and considerable industrialization as his achievements, while insisting he’s brought “dignity” to Bolivia’s indigenous population, the largest in Latin America.

But he came under severe criticism earlier this year as wildfires in August and September ravaged Bolivia’s forests and grasslands, with activists saying his policies encouraged blazes to clear farmland.

Environmental experts said more than two million animals, including jaguars, pumas and llamas, died. A non-governmental organization said more than four million hectares (nearly 10 million acres) were destroyed.

The outcry that followed, particularly among indigenous communities, has helped boost Mesa’s candidacy.

Bolivia’s 7.3 million electorate will also vote Sunday to renew the 136-seat congress.

Polls open at 8:00 am (1200 GMT) and close at 4:00 pm.

None of the other candidates are expected to come close to challenging the top two, but neither Morales nor Mesa is likely to win outright.


Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

Updated 30 October 2020

Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

  • Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants
  • The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital

NAIROBI: A Kenyan court Friday handed prison terms of 33 and 18 years respectively to two men accused of conspiring with the Al-Shabab extremists who attacked Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013, killing 67 people.

Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants from the Somalia-based extremist group who died in what was then Kenya’s worst terrorist attack in 15 years.

The accused asked the judge for leniency, saying they had already served seven years behind bars and had family to care for.

“Despite mitigation by their defense lawyers on their innocence, the offense committed was serious, devastating, destructive, that called for a punishment by the court,” Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi told a Nairobi courtroom.

He sentenced the men to 18 years for conspiracy and 18 for supporting extremists, but ordered they serve both terms together. Abdi was also given an additional 15 years for two counts of possessing extremist propaganda material on his laptop.

He will serve 26 years and Mustafa 11, taking into account their pre-trial detention.

The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital and began throwing grenades and firing indiscriminately on shoppers and business owners.

A four-day siege ensued — much of it broadcast live on television — during which Kenyan security forces tried to flush out the gunmen and take back the high-end retail complex.

Although there was no specific evidence Abdi and Mustafa had provided material help, the court was satisfied their communication with the attackers amounted to supporting the armed rampage, and justified the guilty verdict for conspiracy.

The marathon trial began in January 2014. A third accused was acquitted of all charges.
The Westgate attack was claimed by Al-Shabab in retaliation for Kenya intervening military over the border in Somalia, where the extremist group was waging a bloody insurgency against the fragile central government.

Kenya is a major contributor of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which in 2011 drove Al-Shabab out of Mogadishu and other urban strongholds after a months-long offensive.

In a car the attackers drove to Westgate, police found evidence of newly-activated SIM cards used by the gunmen. Their communications were traced, including calls to Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa.

A fourth defendant, Adan Mohammed Abdikadir, was acquitted in early 2019 for lack of evidence.

The Westgate attack was the deadliest incident of violent extremism on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, which killed 213 people.

But since the assault on the shopping complex, Al-Shabab has perpetrated further atrocities in Kenya against civilian targets.

In April 2015, gunmen entered Garissa University and killed 148 people, almost all of them students. Many were shot point blank after being identified as Christians.

In January 2019, the militants struck Nairobi again, hitting the Dusit Hotel and surrounding offices and killing 21 people.

Al-Shabab warned in a January statement that Kenya “will never be safe” as long as its troops were stationed in Somalia, and threatened further attacks on tourists and US interests.

That same month, Al-Shabab attacked a US military base in northeast Kenya in a cross-border raid, killing three Americans and destroying a number of aircraft.