Bolivia on the brink

Bolivien ist eines meiner Interesengebiete. Und das Democracy Center von jim Shultz scheint mir eine der besten Quellen über Bolivia.

Hier Jims Kommentar zu den angekündigten Wahlen im Sommer:

Friday, May 09, 2008

And Next for Bolivia, Elections Once More!

The price of bread is rising faster than yeast – sixty cents for a morning maraqueta now in Cochabamba. The national government is talking about a multi-million stock buyout of the national telecommunications company (Entel). And the nation is divided after a lopsided vote Sunday in Santa Cruz on the issue of autonomy.

But now Bolivia’s political leaders have a new plan – elections once more. If the political promises made in La Paz yesterday are kept, sometime around August Bolivians will go back to the polls nationwide to decide whether to boot the President, Vice-President and nine regional Governors from office.

Welcome to high stakes political poker, Bolivian style.

Putting all the Chips on a Slanted Table

The odd path toward a national recall vote of the country’s top eleven elected officials began in the immediate aftermath of the January 2007 political violence that left three men dead in Cochabamba. President Morales, in a political duel with Cochabamba Governor Manfred Reyes Villa, publicly endorsed a national recall vote on he and his Vice President along with the governors.

But when the details of his proposal were announced, they came with a twist. Rather than each of the officials having their political fate sealed by a straight up majority vote, Morales declared that the recall should be based on the vote that each official won office with in December 2005.

Translated into numbers, that means that to be removed from office, the vote against each would have to surpass both the percentage of the vote won in 2005 and the raw vote total (I’ll get to the details of what that means in just a bit). Translated into politics, that means that Morales, who won election with almost 54% of the vote, will be much tougher to toss from office than his Governor rivals, none of whom passed 50% in 2005. Not a bad advantage, if you are Evo and Alvaro.

That plan, however, languished in the Bolivian Congress until yesterday, when it shot out of the Senate on a move spearheaded by the opposition. Then Evo announced to much surprise that he would approve the recall vote legislation and was ready for an election rumble with his adversaries. „I am very content that the law that was sleeping in the Senate has been approved,“ said Morales. „This completes one of my dreams and the request of the people.“

Once approval of the law becomes official, national election authorities will have 90 days to organize the vote.

Reaction from Around the Political Poker Table

The other main players at the recall table, the Governors, were quick to signal their support for the vote, but not without noting their disadvantage. Cochabamba’s Governor, Reyes Villa, was in the U.S. and told CNN that he supported the vote even though the rules weren’t equal for all the officials. Cochabamba’s once-Mayor was elected Governor in 2005 with just more than 47% of the vote. That means that he could win a slim majority in the recall and still be ousted from office.

He compared the vote to making the politicians involved play soccer with two different goals, but then took credit for being the first to propose such a vote a year and a half ago. „How many lives and confrontations would have been avoided if in that moment we had approved the law?“ he told CNN’s Spanish language affiliate.

The Governor of La Paz, José Luis Paredes, who faces an even steeper uphill climb against the recall vote, also said he would accept the plan but was quick to cite his political disadvantage. Paredes, a former El Alto mayor more popularly known as Pepe Lucho, was elected in 2005 with just 38% of the vote. His constituency also overlaps with Morales‘ and MAS‘ strongest base of support in the nation. Evo carried 67% of the vote in the department in 2005.

„It creates a distinction that is unfair,“ the La Paz governor told reporters. „With just 39% of the vote they can take away my office. I would need to win 64% of the vote to remain Governor. To remove Evo Morales it will take 55% of the vote which is much harder.“ Paredes added however that he thought the national vote was still „a good way to leave the standoff in which we find ourselves.“

Scenarios and Strategies

So, what does all this mean?

First, it launches Bolivia back into election season. That usually means that street conflicts come to and end for a while as the political players go on their best behavior. It is also a great boon for t-shirt printers. Maybe this time around the parties will hand out free bread.

Second, it means that all the players are gambling, big time.

Why is Evo putting his hard-won historic Presidency on the table? Well, there is the ‚let’s let the people decide,“ argument echoed by almost all of the threatened politicians. But no one plays this kind of poker without some confidence in his or her hand. My bet is that Evo and his allies see the situation like this. The opposition has battled his government to a near standstill. The autonomy vote in Santa Cruz has galvanized his political base in way it hasn’t been since his election win – witness the massive march in Cochabamba last Sunday. And he has cornered his opponents into playing at a table tipped distinctly to his mathematic advantage.

On top of this, if Evo survives and any of his Governor adversaries, like Reyes Villa, do not, he not only loses some of the political thorns in his side but also gets to appoint, as President, their successors. Evo and friends may see in this vote a ‚two-fer‘, a shot at both a second mandate and a chance to remove some adversaries from the picture. It also sets the autonomy issue aside nicely as well, for now.

On the other side, Evo’s adversaries in the Governorships may feel like they know how to handle elections on their home turf and that Evo will have a much harder time at getting 54% than he thinks. His victory in December 2005 relied not only on his natural base among the indigenous, rural voters, and the most impoverished. His historic majority also owed itself to a substantial vote from the country’s urban middle class in places like Cochabamba – MAS polled 65% of the vote in the department – and a lot of those votes he is not likely to win again. In addition, while in 2005 the opposition to Morales was divided among several parties on the right competing for the Presidency, this time the ‚No Evo‘ vote will be unified.

And here is yet another scenario to contemplate. Even if he loses the recall vote, Evo will remain President for at least 90 days until follow-up elections are organized to select a new one. This, in theory, means he can still appoint replacements for any of the Governors that lose. In addition, nothing in the recall law or the Constitution, to my knowledge, prohibits Evo from running in the election to fill the Presidency if he loses that recall vote. This means potentially that Evo could run again in the replacement vote and, in an election likely to be filled by many Presidential wannabes, he could easily come in first.

There is certainly a slim chance that someone here is bluffing and some last minute political deal will scuttle the plan. But tonight it doesn’t look that way.

All this is great news for Bloggers and journalists and fans of political intrigue, and those t-shirt printers. What remains to be seen is whether it will end up being good news for Bolivians, who this week seem markedly more concerned about the price of bread than politics.

Stay tuned.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Schreiben Sie einen Kommentar

Ihre E-Mail-Adresse wird nicht veröffentlicht. Erforderliche Felder sind mit * markiert.