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Bolivia: vote ahead -- or coup?

Bolivia is having a hard time getting to its scheduled June 29 presidential elections. Rumors of a military coup became more insistent this week, and the government of President Lidia Gueiler Tejada was threatened with a new Cabinet crisis as several ministers said they may resign.

Political leaders, including former President Hernan Siles Zuazo, who is a candidate for the presidency, openly speculate that a coup by the Army high command is in the works.

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All this leads to significant doubt that the presidential vote will be held. Bolivian observers say that Mrs. Gueiler, whose caretaker government came to power six months ago, has not proved a very effective administrator. But they put much of the blame for the present crisis on the military.

This is nothing new for the chronically unstable, landlocked nation. Military unhappiness with civilian governments is perennial.

Ever since Mrs. Gueiler became Bolivia's first woman president last November, there have been military rumblings of dissatisfaction. Moreover, with inflation soaring at 23 percent, many military men are unhappy with low pay scales and are demanding more money.

Mrs. Gueiler's hold on power clearly is tenuous. But she does have much public support. And public opinion could prove her most important ally. It was an angry outcry from the Bolivian citizenry that forced the military to accept her presidency in the first place.

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