Bolivia's most influential newspaper warned today of "a feeling of disquiet and mistrust about what the future holds" for the country as its politicians squabble about who will be the first civilian president after more than a decade of military rule.
Presencia, a morning newspaper owned by the Catholic Church, said Bolivia's three major political coalitions have created the growing feeling of tension in the country because of statements indicating that they "are not inclined to reach an understanding with each other" to govern the country after Aug. 6.
Because none of the coalitions won a majority of the votes in the country's July 1 election, the newly elected Congress will meet early next month to choose Bolivia's first civilian president after more than a decade of military rule.
Both local and foreign observers expressed fears this week that if the Congress becomes deadlocked or if one of the coalitions refuses to accept the outcome of the vote, then strikes, violence and another military coup could result.
Presencia hinted at this fear in its editorial when it said, "It will be difficult to guarantee what will happen afterwards in Bolivia" if an understanding among the coalitions is not reached and if the Congress cannot agree on a new president.
Even if the coalitions reach an agreement, the future of democratic government here is not certain.
The country faces a severe economic crisis that could force a government to impose harsh - and unpopular - austerity measures.
Instead of trying to reach an accord that would give one of the three leading presidential contenders enough votes in the Congress to be elected, the three political coalitions spent the last week trying to discredit the honesty of the recent general election. Each coalition accuses the other of massive vote fraud.
The Popular and Democratic Union coalition of leftist Hernan Siles Zuazo has advertised in newspapers around the country claiming that he should be president because he appears to have won a slight plurality of the popular vote.
Some of these ads have carried the slogan "to defend our victory is to defend democracy," interpreted here as a subtle threat that Siles will take his followers into the streets if he is not elected by the Congress as the country's next president.
Victor Paz Estenssoro and his National Revolutionary Movement Alliance, meanwhile, have been running advertisements saying even though he may be slightly behind in the popular vote, he won seven of Bolivia's nine departments and far more seats than Siles in the new Congress.
The Paz campaign defends the legitimacy of the Congress to select the president based on his strength among the senators and deputies, who do not under the Bolivian constitution have to decide based on the popular vote.
If Siles and Paz cannot agree on which of them should be president, Gen. Hugo Banzer, a former military president and candidate in the recent democratic election, will hold enough votes in the new Congress to give either of his opponents the necessary majority for election. But neither Siles nor Paz has shown any interest thus far in negotiating with the former rightist dictator.
The campaign of words between Siles' and Paz's parties grew even more hostile today when the youth wing of Paz's coalition took a paid advertisement to charge that Siles' supporters in the universities have begun organizing into cells in preparation for guerrilla-style armed subversion if Siles does not become president.
Siles' followers have said they will not resort to violence in the event that Siles is not elected by the congress. But the candidate warned before the election, that if the popular vote was not respected he would take his student, union and peasant supporters into the streets.