The Elections in Bolivia : A preview

What can we expect from the elections in Bolivia and why?

Evo Morales could very well be looking at another term as President. Source : The Foreigner

On October 12th of this year, the Bolivian electorate will go to the polls to elect the two chambers of Congress and a President and Vice-President; while democratic contents always draw attention it seems clear that incumbent President Evo Morales and his left-wing party Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) will secure for themselves a new term in office, rather easily. The elections in Bolivia need to have additional dimensions to them in order to add value to the process.

There are two plausible explanations as to why will Mr. Morales win. First of all, his government remains considerably popular in the country; some of the populist policies while being controversial, client-oriented and short-term have secured him a vast amount of support. To that effect, ever since the MAS started its campaign it has used the most valuable feature of incumbency: Mr. Morales already is the president, his party already controls parliament therefore they can mix public policy with political campaigning and there is nobody who can stop it. Indeed, the government will continue to promote itself with pure political clientelism. Through the openings of roads, fields, water wells, airports, the government is giving money and materials for all regions of the country and they are not separating these results from their political platform, quite the opposite.

The second explanation has more to do not with Mr. Morale’s government itself but with the political opposition in Bolivia which is disorganized, fragmented, short-sighted and therefore weak.

Before addressing the lackluster and disarrayed political movements in Bolivia, there is an important caveat which must be properly discussed. Ever since Mr. Morales was sworn in, he has persecuted his political adversaries and one of the priorities of his government has been to neutralize political leaders by forcing them to leave the country or by jailing them and accuse them of corruption. While the government has bitterly denied these charges, the fact of the matter is that this particular party has never entertained the possibility of having a proper opposition and has accused every politician who dared to stand up against them as agents of the United States.

That being said, there are a number of political leaders who remain in the country and, instead of creating a project for a unified front, let their egos and personal ambitions get the best of them. This is the case of former President Jorge Quiroga, the former mayor of La Paz Juan del Granado and cement tycoon –and two times presidential candidate- Samuel Doria Medina, among others.

The above-mentioned leaders all have good credentials and they could surely design a national unity government who could improve Bolivia’s monetary, economic, social and foreign policies. They all agree that Bolivia should expand its foreign policy beyond its ALBA partners, diversify its economy beyond exporting raw materials. If one would look at their political manifestos there are many common themes and the case could be made for the three to create a united front against what they all see as a bad government, but there is just no political will.

As a consequence, none of the candidates has any real possibility to win the election; every reliable poll conducted in the country has them trailing behind by double digits. Furthermore, Congress will remain in the absolute control of MAS which prevents the government to have the necessary scrutiny to its legislative priorities. This fragmentation doesn’t help the candidates or the country; it only helps the President and his party.

If the opposition leaders would unite under one umbrella and one ticket, it is not clear if they could win the election. After all, the President’s populist politics has tremendous amount of support however, it could force the President to engage in debates, it would increase the chances of MAS losing its grip on Congress.

Bolivia is not alone in this. Countries like Argentina, Venezuela and Ecuador also have left-wing populist governments and their oppositions can’t find a way to organize themselves under a united front despite the fact that they have similar political manifestos and objectives.

For now, Bolivia will have to wait another 5 years before it can challenge the President and MAS; for now there are only two things clear. Number one is that the President will win the election and his party will win Congress and number two, the political opposition in Bolivia is still in its infant stage and it has much to learn.


Diego Salama

Diego Salama

Senior Editor at InPRA
Diego Salama was born and raised in Cochabamba, Bolivia. He is currently engaged as a Research Assistant to the Education Director at United Nations University (UNU-MERIT). He studied International Relations at University College Maastricht and is currently pursuing an LL.M in International Law at the Maastricht Graduate School of Law. Prior to his current engagements, Diego worked for the United Nations Information Centre in Lima and he served as Secretary-General of the “VIth EuroMUN.” Diego is also an international affairs columnist for two national circulation newspapers in Bolivia where he publishes a syndicated column on Latin American politics and foreign policy analysis. He joins InPRA as an expert on Latin America.
Diego Salama