Christina Monasterios believes Bolivian democracy was saved on the 20th floor of the central bank in La Paz on Tuesday afternoon.

Mrs Monasterios, a street vendor from La Paz's old San Pedro neighbourhood, was close to tears on Tuesday as she recounted how she stood with nervous crowds in Plaza Murillo, near the governmental palace, to demand that Congress reject President Carlos Mesa's offer to resign.

When the news filtered down from the bank just before 5pm that government negotiators and congressional leaders had struck a deal to keep Mr Mesa in power, the mood in the square became festive.

“Mesa is a good leader, a man of peace,” says the mother of three, clutching a Bolivian flag and dressedin the country's traditional pollera skirt, manta shawl and bowler. “They have saved the republic and now it's time to celebrate.”

Mr Mesa, who prompted a political crisis on Sunday night by offering to step down, will hope for the continued support of Mrs Monasterios and thousands of other Bolivians who have demonstrated on his behalf in recent days.

The president, whose audacious power gamble stemmed from growing unrest aimed at securing punitive royalty rates on investors in Bolivia's gas industry, has often spoken of a “silent majority” drowned out by radical activists. In a sense, Mr Mesa's resignation threat aimed to tease out that majority and to marshall his own street factions in defence of moderation.

In a triumphant address on Tuesday night after Congress rejected his resignation, Mr Mesa urged the silent majority to take to the streets again today to demonstrate its opposition to the dozens of roadblocks that have threatened to strangle the country.

This appeal is an attempt to widen the middle ground in Bolivian politics, where aggressive sectoral interests such as those of the wealthy autonomy-seeking Santa Cruz province or the radical anti-capitalism of community organisers in El Alto often dictate the terms. “The silent majority hasn't really felt represented politically for the last five years,” says Carlos Alberto López, an analyst in La Paz.

Mr Mesa's attempt to use peaceful protest as a weapon against the demonstrations of radical social movements is sensible and necessary in the context of the country's recent history. “It would be very difficult to alter the patterns of political behaviour that have been formed in recent years,” says Eduardo Gamarra, a political scientist at Florida International University. “Mobilisation is the way to get things done.”

By signing a four-point plan with the main political parties and by appealing to the silent majority, Mr Mesa has for now shored up the conventional instruments of government. These alliances have also enabled Mr Mesa to identify his foes more clearly. In his speech to Congress, the president singled out Evo Morales, radical leader of the Movement to Socialism (MAS), the only big party not to sign up to the pact. In doing so, Mr Mesa turned the tables on the indigenous leader. Mr Morales had already been dealt a blow earlier in the day when Hugo Chávez, the leftist Venezuelan leader rumoured to be funding him, offered Mr Mesa his support.

But isolating the MAS may come to haunt Mr Mesa. The group has vowed to strengthen pressure on Congress to raise royalty payments to 50 per cent. On Wednesday MAS formed an alliance with other leftwing groups to secure “nationalisation by right” of energy resources.

Mr Mesa's four-point plan is fuzzy on the royalty issue, merely urging legislation that “preserves foreign investment and observes national sovereignty”.

But for now Mr Mesa's mandate is rejuvenated. Mrs Monasterios says she will be back today in the Plaza Murillo, even though it will cost her another day's wages. “This is more important. The future of the Bolivian people is at stake.”

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