Three Bolivian ministers resign ahead of October vote

Three top Bolivian ministers resigned Monday, sparking a crisis in interim president Jeanine Anez’s government weeks short of general election.

Economy Minister Oscar Ortiz revealed a deep split in the cabinet at a news conference, telling journalists that he quit as he was about to be sacked.

“I understand they have already decided to appoint another person,” Ortiz said, adding that he disagreed with a government decision to hand back shares in nationalized power company ELFEC to a group of private shareholders.

Two other economy ministers, Labor Minister Oscar Mercado and Productive Development Minister Abel Martinez, later announced their resignations on Twitter.

Anez announced shortly afterwards that businessman Branko Marinkovic would assume the economy portfolio.

The interim president announced earlier this month that some shares in ELFEC, the power company nationalized by former leftist president Evo Morales in 2010, would be returned to a private company.

Ortiz told reporters he was concerned about the legality of the decision, adding he was unwilling “to sign any decree that goes against the legal system or does not have sufficient legal support.

“I do not believe the government in its last weeks should make new contracts or important awards that should be left for the next administration,” he said.

Interior Minister Arturo Murillo admitted that “the ELFEC issue has generated a lot of friction” in the cabinet, and criticized Ortiz. 

Morales slammed the return of the ELFEC shares on Twitter as “a serious attack on the chain of production and distribution of electricity.” 

The exiled ex-president, still a powerful figure in his Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, said: “Those responsible must be punished. We will defend nationalization.”

Bolivians will go to the polls on October 18, a year after Morales’s controversial victory in the last election triggered mass protests over allegations of vote rigging. 

The 60-year-old indigenous leader, who had led the South American country uninterrupted since 2006, resigned and was forced to flee, initially to Mexico before settling in neighboring Argentina.

Anez withdrew from the election two weeks ago after a national poll put her in fourth place, well behind the MAS party candidate, Luis Arce and former centrist president Carlos Mesa.