LA PAZ — With two rival candidates claiming the right to be elected president, the Bolivian armed forces said Friday that they would accept the decision to be made Sunday by Congress in a runoff election.
The announcement in a communique by the military high command came as the national electoral court was hearing charges that ballot boxes involving as many as 100,000 votes in the department of La Paz had not been included in final returns.
This fraud charge was leveled by Hugo Banzer Suarez, presidential candidate of the conservative National Democratic Action party, who holds a lead of more than 35,000 votes in the nationwide totals over Victor Paz Estenssoro, a former president and the candidate of the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement party. Officials said 1,710,000 votes were cast in the July 14 national election.
Less Than 50%
Banzer's advantage is not enough, however, to give him the 50% majority he needs to be elected by direct, popular vote.
The result will require a runoff in the Congress whose members were also elected July 14. Paz Estenssoro's party had an advantage of 12 seats over Banzer's party in the 158-seat Congress.
Paz Estenssoro has issued a proclamation saying that this majority in Congress should give him the right to be elected president. Banzer countered with full-page advertisement in newspapers saying he should be elected because of his advantage in the popular vote.
Banzer called on his supporters to demonstrate in the streets "to defend your vote." Party leaders ordered Banzer's followers to occupy the main squares in this capital and in other provincial cities until Congress chooses the new president.
The new Congress will be seated today and the presidential vote is expected Sunday. The incumbent president, Hernan Siles Zuazo, ends his term Aug. 6. Delegations from foreign countries are already on their way here for the inauguration.
Small Parties Are Key
Congress' decision on the presidency will turn on votes from the senators and deputies representing smaller parties. Paz Estenssoro's backers said they expect support from the party of President Siles and other leftist parties, including four votes from the Communist Party and three from the Christian Democrats.
The third-largest party in Congress, the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR), whose presidential candidate Jaime Paz Zamora received more than 150,000 votes, has not announced yet whether its congressional members will vote for Banzer or Paz Estenssoro.
The declaration of neutrality by the armed forces came after a former military president, Gen. David Padilla, said in an interview published here that Banzer should be elected because of his lead in the popular vote. Padilla warned that young officers had told him they would not accept any result other than a Banzer victory.