The three-week political crisis that threatened to topple President Lidia Gueiler before the June 29 general election appears to have ended almost as suddenly as it began.
Bolivia's armed forces met with Gueiler Thursday in Cohabamba, about 250 miles from this capital, and declared that the military would drop its proposal to postpone the elections for at least a year.
Gen. Armando Reyes Villa, the armed forces commander-in-chief, said Friday that the military would bow to the wishes of the civilian political leaders, including Gueiler, and allow the election to proceed as planned.
In the view of diplomatic and political observers, the threat of a military coup, which had hung over Bolivia with the same suffocating effect as the dust clouds now above La Paz, has dissipated at least until after the election. This will be the third in as many years as Bolivia continues to try to elect a president with enough support in the Congress, the unions and the military -- the three main power centers -- to govern.
The June 29 election is expected to be as inconclusive as those in the past when one of the three major political leaders -- rightist Gen. Hugo Banzer Suarez, centrist Victor Paz Estenssoro and lefist Hernan Siles Zuazo -- mustered enough votes to gain the necessary electorial majority or fashion a coalition in Congress to appoint one of them president.
Because of the threat of another military coup, none of three candidates began campaigning in earnest until Friday. But two of the three then came out swinging, an ominous sign for those hoping Bolivia will manage this time to hold relatively celan elections and inaugurate a strong president Aug. 6. Among those hoping for such an outcome is the Carter administration, which has vigorously supported the moves toward democratic rule.
Banzer, 54, began his campaign by charging that his two major opponents, Paz, 74, and Siles, 69, are "two old fools." The note of personal criticism indicates he plans to play tough in trying to reoccupy the office he held from 1971 to 1978 as military dictator.
In 1978, the voting fraud was considered so massive that the elections were annulled -- precipitating the coup that overthrew Banzer and brought another year of military government before a second round of elections could be held last July.
When Congress could not agree on whether Paz, Siles, or Banzer should be president, it elected Walter Guevara Arze as a caretaker chief executive. He was overthrown three months later by Col. Alberto Natusch Busch, who was forced out in favor of an interim rule by Gueiler after three weeks of fighting and strikes that left more than 200 dead in La Paz and probably many others throughout the country.
Although some officers, including Gen. Luis Garcia Meza, commander of the Army, appear to want to return to the presidential palace at almost any cost, enough of the military seems to have been persuaded by Natusch's experience to have forestalled a coup during the past three weeks.