MEXICO CITY — Bolivia’s interim president, Jeanine Añez, said Thursday that she was abandoning her election campaign, capping a stormy year in power during which divisions in her polarized nation grew only deeper.
The announcement came just a day after a well-regarded poll reported that she had slid into fourth place in the presidential race. The vote is scheduled for Oct. 18.
Ms. Añez said she was dropping out to help unite the conservative vote and try to block the current front-runner, the leftist former economy minister Luis Arce, from winning.
“I’m doing this because of a risk that the vote gets divided between various candidates,” Ms. Añez said in a national address published on social media. “It’s not a sacrifice, it’s an honor.”
It was a surprising end to a presidency that began in a surprising fashion.
“I assume the presidency immediately and will do everything necessary to pacify the country,” Ms. Añez, then a junior lawmaker, declared to the nation last November after a chaotic election yielded a leadership vacuum.
At the time, Ms. Añez was a retiring senator from a remote farming region, and Bolivia’s longtime president, Evo Morales, the country’s first Indigenous leader, had fled into exile.
At first promising to hold a new vote and bow out, Ms. Añez quickly began to reshape Bolivia’s foreign policy, introduce Catholic symbols into secular state procedures and go after the former president’s supporters. Mr. Morales himself was charged with terrorism in a case that international human rights groups called politically motivated and lacking in evidence.
But Ms. Añez’s hard-line policies against Mr. Morales’s Movement to Socialism party, which remains Bolivia’s largest, backfired, galvanizing opposition from the country’s Indigenous majority and hobbling her ability to govern.
Ms. Añez also hurt herself by reneging on her early pledge to serve as a caretaker, announcing that she would seek a mandate in the elections to replace Mr. Morales. That alienated moderate voters.
But the biggest blow to her campaign came from coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis.
In August, protesters in Bolivia blockaded the country’s main roads to challenge the delay of general elections and rebuke the government over its poor response to the pandemic. The protesters, mostly supporters of Mr. Morales, crippled an already contracting economy.
Ms. Añez’s candidacy received only 10 percent support in a presidential poll released Wednesday by the Jubilee Foundation, a prominent Bolivian civil rights group.
The poll found Mr. Arce was leading with 40 percent of the vote. Given the crowded field of opponents, that would be enough to allow him to claim outright victory and return Mr. Morales’s party to power.
But with Ms. Añez’s exit, there are now just two viable conservative candidates on the ballot, reducing Mr. Arce’s chances of victory.
María Silvia Trigo contributed reporting from Tarija, Bolivia.