Monday, December 07, 2009

Morales’ Mandate for Change Wins

(digitalwarriormedia) LA PAZ – It was another day of history-making for Bolivia on Sunday as voters delivered an overwhelming victory to incumbent President Evo Morales Ayma. Preliminary results show Morales winning re-election with 63% of the national vote and his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party claiming a majority in both houses of Bolivia’s Congress.

The second place presidential candidate Manfred Reyes Villa of the Progress Plan for Bolivia party gained almost 28% of the national vote. And only 6% of the electorate voted for Samuel Doria Medina of the National Unity party.

MAS won 25 seats in the 36-member Chamber of Departmental Representatives (Senate) and 88 seats in the 130-member Chamber of Deputies (House of Representatives). With a majority in the Executive and Legislature, MAS has a greater chance to advance its social agenda over the next five years. Morales and his Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera will remain in office until 2012.

More than 5.1 million Bolivians voted – 4,969,423 in-country and another 169,096 in Argentina, Brazil, Spain and the United States. Of those voting abroad, almost 70% voted for President Morales.

Residents also voted in the departments of Cochabamba, La Paz, Potosi, Oruro, Chuquisaca and the El Chaco region on autonomy referendums. The referendums passed overwhelmingly from 73% in Oruro to 80% in La Paz and El Chaco. Bolivia’s other four departments (Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija) were excluded from holding autonomy referendums since these departments held unsanctioned votes for regional autonomy in 2006.

Numbers are based upon exit polls. Official results from the National Electoral Court (CNE) have yet to be confirmed.

Voting Day Observations

Walking around La Paz, the streets were empty as restrictions on vehicles eliminated the usual rush of city traffic. Polls were open for eight hours throughout the country from 8 am until 5 pm. In Bolivia, voting is obligatory and elections take place on Sunday. Businesses close and due to government restrictions on vehicles, most cars remain off the streets.

Communities come together to vote at local schools where entire families congregate. Children vote with their parents and families bring along their pets. Impromptu food stands pop up outside of polling sites where local residents use the time to earn a little extra money.

At a polling station in the Sopacachi area of La Paz, voters had a varied range of opinions. Some supported the democratic process and believed the government’s economic and social programs were improving the country. Others expressed concern about a clear MAS majority.

Each person who spoke on the issue of autonomy felt that it was a positive reform for Bolivia’s departments. It would allow local representatives greater control to govern fiscal resources.

Departmental autonomy has been one of the most intense issues within Bolivia in recent years. It became a cause célèbre for those opposed to the central government in La Paz and a force for violent conflict within the country during 2006.

Peace and Transparency

Overall over 4,200 international and national observers were on hand for Sunday’s vote. Around 300 international observers arrived in Bolivia from organizations such as the European Union, Organization of American States (OAS), Mercosur and the Carter Center.

At a press conference Sunday evening, international and national observers were in agreement that the day was calm and the voting process was transparent and without irregularities.

“I have complete confidence in the electoral court and the results of the vote,” said Dr. Roshina, head of the Mission of Observers from Mercosur.

The Carter Center - based in Atlanta, GA - sent 18 international observers. A team of observers were in Bolivia in January 2009 to observe the national constitutional referendum vote. The Carter Center has held a field office in La Paz since 2007 and has been involved in democracy-building projects in Bolivia since 2002.

According to Dr. Jennifer McCoy – head of the Carter Center mission – preliminary reports from observers in the departments of Cochabamba, Santa Cruz and La Paz indicate that Sunday’s vote was calm, without any irregularities.

“All the reports we’ve received so far have been positive. Overall it was a peaceful day and orderly,” said Dr. McCoy. “We’re still waiting to get all the reports from our observers and other observers to give a full review, but up until now it seems to have gone fairly well.”

Sunday’s election was the first time that the Bolivian government used a new biometric voter registration system. From August 1 to October 15, more than 5 million voters were registered using a highly sophisticated system that cataloged digital photographs and fingerprints for each potential voter into a database.

One of several challenges facing the Morales government is how to implement departmental autonomy and provisions within the nation’s new constitution that was passed in January. Right now the question remains whether or not MAS will have the numbers necessary to push their agenda through Congress over the next five years.

“What will be important as well is to look at the Congress - both chambers, the upper and lower chambers,” explained Dr. McCoy about the level of pluralism that may characterize the near future of Bolivia’s Plurinational Legislative Assembly.

“Does the MAS - the governing party- win a simple majority? Does it win a two-thirds majority that gives it more leeway to pass by itself organic laws or proposals to reform the Constitution?” asked McCoy. “Those are the questions that we need to wait and see the official results.”

MAS Support

Previously the opposition claimed that Morales was polarizing the country. His attention to the poor, indigenous majority was causing divisions within the country. However at each opportunity, Morales’ support has intensified.

In a recall referendum held in August 2008 in which voters could accept or reject Morales and their departmental governors, Morales won nationally by 67 percent. In contrast, Cochabambinos voted Manfred Reyes Villa out of the Cochabamba governor’s office by a 2:1 margin.

These numbers demonstrate is that even if the opposition had been able to pull together a united front, Morales and MAS possess a high level of support among the majority of Bolivia’s population.

Morales started his day voting in the department of Cochabamba but returned to La Paz on Sunday evening to address thousands of supporters who crowded into the Plaza Murillo.

From the balcony of the Governmental Palace, Morales thanked the people of Bolivia for their participation, stating that now the president and vice president have five more years to serve the people.

"We have an enormous responsibility to Bolivia, but also to life and humanity, to deepen and accelerate the process of change."

Photos: Digital Warrior Media


Sunday, December 06, 2009

Watching Another Transformative Moment in Bolivia

(digitalwarriormedia) LA PAZ – On a luminous, clear day in the heart of Bolivia’s capital city La Paz, people mingled about the streets on the eve of one of the most significant days in Bolivia’s recent history. Tranquilo is how Bolivians were describing the mood throughout the country as voters anticipate their national elections on Sunday, December 6.

In front of La Paz’s Departmental Electoral Court, drivers cued up by the hundreds, waiting to receive special permits that allow them to work on Election Day. Meanwhile electoral court employees handed out voter guides by the hundreds to pedestrians and vehicles passing by.

Voting stations will open on Sunday for the first national election since the passage of the nation’s new Constitution in January of this year. Voters will choose their next president, vice-president and representatives in both houses of Bolivia’s Plurinational Legislative Assembly.

In addition, within five of Bolivia’s departments (Cochabamba, Chuquisaca, La Paz, Oruro, and Potosi) and 12 municipalities, autonomy referendums will be held where voters can accept or reject greater sovereignty from the central government.

President Evo Morales and Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera are polling at numbers above 55%, according to Telesur. However, local reports here in Bolivia have the incumbents polling at numbers above 60%. One driver who spoke with the Bolivia Transition Project while waiting in traffic on Avenida 16 de Julio said he expects Morales to win by 80%.

Several voters – from middle-class students to the masked shoe shiner – expressed their support for the government and the autonomy referendums. Autonomy that is inclusive, protects the unity of Bolivia and the rights of indigenous communities has wide support. But voters were critical of the separatist autonomy demonstrated in the past by Bolivia’s oligarchic elite.

One woman was pragmatic in her opinion of the current government. She said the changes taking place in Bolivia have both positive and negative effects, however most of the people were with Evo and she anticipated that the current government will win.

Meanwhile, opposition parties are continuing their charge that Sunday’s election will be marred by fraud. It is the first election in which a new biometric registration system will be used. A record number of 5.1 million voters were fingerprinted and photographed between August 1 and October 15. Sunday’s vote will put the new system to the test.

Around 300 international observers from the European Union (EU), Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center will monitor voting sites throughout the country. The elections on December 6 will have the highest number of international observers ever to supervise an election in Bolivia.

The National Electoral Court, members of the Morales administration and international observers have noted the level of transparency in the upcoming election and dismissed the allegations of potential fraud.

On Sunday, the streets will be quiet as government regulations restrict vehicular travel on Election Day. But voting stations will be full of activity as the citizens of this poor, land-locked nation continue playing their part in an ongoing story that has the world watching the next transformative moment in Bolivia’s history.

Photos: Digital Warrior Media


Friday, December 04, 2009

CEPR Report: Bolivia - Strongest Economy in Hemisphere

Adapted from Bolivia: The Economy During the Morales Administration by Mark Weisbrot, Rebecca Ray, and Jake Johnston

Bolivia’s economic growth in the last four years has been higher than at any time in the last 30 years, averaging 4.9 percent annually since the current administration took office in 2006. The government has increased its control over natural resources and vastly increased its revenues, and effectively used expansionary fiscal policy to counter-act some of the negative impacts from the world economic downturn.

Projected GDP growth for 2009 is the highest in the hemisphere. Bolivia’s 2009 growth is all the more remarkable in view of the size and number of negative shocks to the economy. These included falling remittances, declining foreign investment, the United States’ revocation of trade preferences, declining export prices and markets for part of the year and other impacts of the global recession.

Since 2004, government revenue has risen by almost 20 percentage points of GDP. Most of this increase came as a result of an increase in the government’s revenue from hydrocarbons, due to increased royalty payments, the Morales’ government’s re-nationalization of the industry, and price increases.

In the last three years the government has begun several programs targeted at the poorest Bolivians. These include payments to poor families to increase school enrollment; an expansion of public pensions to relive extreme poverty among the elderly; and most recently, payments for uninsured mothers to expand prenatal and post-natal care, to reduce infant and child mortality.

"The Bolivian economy has done very well under President Evo Morales, and government policy has been key. These economic gains are a big part of the reason he is favored to win re-election by a wide margin," said Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. and lead author of the report.

"None of this would have been possible without the government's regaining control of the country's natural resources," he added.

Click here to read the entire report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research


Thursday, December 03, 2009

In The Final Days of the Campaign

(digitalwarriormedia) LA PAZ - With just three days remaining before Bolivia's national election, a reversal by the National Electoral Court (CNE) on Monday has ensured that hundreds of thousands of citizens will be able to vote this coming Sunday.

A previous ruling was set to keep 400,671 Bolivians from voting unless they presented birth certificates to the Civil Registry by today, but Monday's decision automatically re-instated 236,864 voters.

Yesterday during a press conference at the Governmental Palace, President Evo Morales expressed his satisfaction with the CNE’s decision, stating that it was in the interest of democracy.

When asked about allegations from the opposition about the potential for voter fraud, Morales dismissed these claims. “This is an attitude of pessimism and non participation,” said Morales.

He expressed his optimism for Sunday’s vote, saying he expects his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party to win between 24 and 27 senators in the Plurinational Legislative Assembly.

Last night Morales and Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera closed the MAS campaign in the city of Santa Cruz - one of the strongholds of anti-Morales sentiment.

Tens of thousands filled the Parque Urbano to support Morales in a city where violent attacks against MAS supporters have prevented Morales from traveling to this city in the past.

Tonight,MAS will close its campaign in the city of El Alto in the Department of La Paz. It is a fast-growing city on the Altiplano above the capital city of La Paz.

Los Alteños are ardent supporters of Morales. The city is filled with Bolivians - many campesinos -who have migrated from other parts of the country in search of work and opportunity.

Morales is expected to take more than 70% of the vote in the La Paz department on Sunday. Polls continue to show Morales gaining at least 60 percent of the vote.

More than 5.1 million people are registered to vote, the highest number in Bolivian history. Sunday’s elections will determine Bolivia’s president, vice president and representatives in the Plurinational Legislative Assembly.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Live From La Paz: A Pre-Election Analysis

(digitalwarriormedia) LA PAZ - Unlike previous votes observed by the Bolivia Transition Project since 2006 – the streets seem relatively quiet – few flyers are being distributed on the sidewalks; banners and posters sparsely adorn the streets around the capital city of La Paz.

Other than the crush of people lined up outside of the Departmental Court and those crowding around voter lists on El Prado - there are few indications that a major election is just around the corner.

It is already expected that President Evo Morales and Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera will easily win a second term. Recent poll numbers indicate that Morales may win by anywhere from 55-63%.

Although polls can be taken with a degree of skepticism, if these numbers are any indication of the reality that awaits on December 6, Morales may win by a larger margin than his victory in December 2005 when he won by 53.7% - the greatest margin in Bolivia’s democratic history.

The unknown factor of Sunday’s vote is how well the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party will fare as voters cast ballots for their legislative representatives in the Bolivian Congress. Supporters warn that if MAS loses representation, the reforms initiated over the last four years will be in jeopardy.

Officially renamed the Plurinational Legislative Assembly by the country’s new Constitution – the lawmaking body consists of a Chamber of Deputies (130 representatives) and a Chamber of Departmental Representatives (36 representatives).

Majority Gains

MAS is seeking control over both chambers of the Plurinational Assembly. A two-thirds majority win by MAS would be a significant blow to the opposition’s ability to resist Morales and MAS.

While speaking before a crowd of 100,000 supporters in the city of Cochabamba on Monday, Morales said, “In this campaign we’re looking for the highest number of representatives in the Plurinational Legislative Assembly”.

Blazing the campaign trail throughout the country’s nine departments, Morales and Garcia Linera readily share the stage with local MAS representatives. They stress the importance of a MAS victory on Sunday to guarantee “el proceso del cambio” (the process of change) taking place in Bolivia.

Morales criticized voters who would make use of the “cross-ballot” which allows voters to vote for their Executive and Legislative representatives from different parties. He called on all of his supporters to vote for the MAS slate.

During the last four years, reforms that passed the MAS-controlled House were readily blocked by the opposition-controlled Senate. Conflicts within the chambers over large-scale reforms - such as the passing of the Constitution and the electoral law that paved the way for Sunday’s election - were marred on both sides by boycotts, lockouts, hunger strikes and at times fisticuffs.

And while MAS promises the passage of 100 new laws to support implementation of the new Constitution, opposition parties reject a number of pillars of the MAS platform, including provisions made within the nation’s new Charter.

Of Things to Come

The last four years have been characterized by a degree of compromise on the part of Morales and the Congress in attempts to get reform legislation passed. One of Morales’ greatest personal concessions was a guarantee that he will not run for re-election in 2015 if he wins a second term this December.*

But beyond Sunday’s election and its outcome, a two-thirds majority by MAS in the Executive and Legislative branches of government would change MAS’s emphasis from a struggle against the opposition to highlighting if MAS can effectively govern and implement proposed reforms.

In the United States, Democrats control the House, Senate and Presidency only to be characterized by some as possessing a high level of ineffectiveness and impotence.

If voters deliver to MAS majority control and thus exceptional political power – MAS will have a new fight on its hands – one that will resist the trappings of power and continue governing in the interest of the Bolivian people.

Grassroots political participation is a deep facet of life in this poor nation where a political voice is the greatest asset for many citizens. And as with all investments, there are unknown risks.

Sunday’s vote holds out a number of challenges. Whether MAS gains or loses seats in the Plurinational Assembly there will be different unintended consequences for a party that rose to power championing the demands of Bolivia’s campesinos and social organizations.

*Technically under the new Constitution, Morales’ first term (Jan 2006- Jan 2010) would not legally preclude him from seeking re-election in another 5 years. The opposition insisted that Morales not seek another term or risk that passage of the Constitution would be stalled indefinitely.

Photos: Digital Warrior Media