BOLIVIA WAS wracked by violence and in danger of slipping into anarchy on Monday. While both military leaders and civilian agitators were culpable, there could be little doubt who was ultimately responsible for the chaos: newly resigned president Evo Morales.
Mr. Morales, who had grown increasingly autocratic in nearly 14 years in office, insisted on running for a fourth term even after he lost a national referendum on whether he could seek it. The electoral tribunal, which he controls, then moved to falsify the results of the Oct. 20 vote so as to hand him a first-round victory.
The result was predictable: Angry Bolivians took to the streets all over the country. They had been demonstrating for weeks when, on Sunday, an audit released by the Organization of American States reported massive irregularities in the vote count and called for a fresh election.
That is the right solution. But the commanders of the army and national police complicated the situation Sunday by calling on Mr. Morales to step down. It was not a coup in the usual sense: No troops stormed government offices, and the army has so far shown no interest in taking power.
But the military intervention led to a dangerous power vacuum. Mr. Morales and senior legislative leaders from his party all resigned, leaving no one in control of the government. Mobs sympathetic to both sides went on a rampage of looting and arson.
On Monday, Bolivia’s more responsible leaders, including Carlos Mesa, the runner-up in the Oct. 20 vote, were attempting to preserve constitutional order by convening the National Congress to accept Mr. Morales’s resignation and designate a civilian successor who would call elections within 30 days. But it wasn’t clear that Mr. Morales would cooperate. Instead, holed up in the coca-growing region that is his stronghold, he issued incendiary tweets denouncing the “coup,” even as deputies loyal to him prevented the legislature from gaining the quorum necessary to act. Mr. Mesa plausibly accused Mr. Morales of seeking to create chaos in the country, thereby enabling a comeback.
Though he is a disciple of Hugo Chávez, Mr. Morales did not wreak the economic havoc that has devastated Venezuela. On the contrary, he oversaw steady growth and a reduction in poverty. As a member of the Aymara indigenous people, he offered new respect for Bolivia’s long-downtrodden indigenous majority. His downfall was his insatiable appetite for power. He was unable to accept that a majority of Bolivians wanted him to leave office.
Latin America’s polarization between left- and right-wing regimes led to a predictable diplomatic scramble Sunday, with leftist governments denouncing the supposed coup and rightists welcoming Mr. Morales’s downfall. In fact, all sides ought to be supporting the OAS position, which calls for an end to violence and “an urgent meeting” of the National Congress to “ensure the institutional functioning and to name new electoral authorities to guarantee a new electoral process.”