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



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