Bolivia decides whether to give Morales a fourth term

Bolivia decides whether to give Morales a fourth term

Bolivian President, who came to power in 2006, seeks to remain in office until 2025. His party must suffer significant losses, but, judging by the polls, the question is whether he will win in the first or second round.

Bolivia will elect this Sunday (20/10) a new president for the 2020-2025 legislature. The current president, Evo Morales, in power since 2006, seeks a new reelection. The divided opposition is concentrating its efforts to get the election to the second round.

The electoral campaign was marked by clashes over public opinion polls, by sectors of the opposition contesting Morales' candidacy, and the government presents itself as the only one capable of maintaining economic stability.

The polls predict a close race, but everyone agrees that Morales will come first. The question is whether he will be victorious in the first round. As established by the Bolivian Constitution, the condition for this is either to exceed 50% of the votes, or to obtain more than 40%, with a difference of ten percentage points for the runner-up.

In the opinion of Iván Velásquez, economist and coordinator of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Bolivia, during the election campaign "there was more debate about research than about programs". He says that while the ruling Movement for Socialism (MAS) party emphasized its successful economic management in these 13 years, "the opposition has not come up with a solid program proposal that could offset it." Their weakness was "not being able to show the population that they are a different option".

The slogan of the MAS campaign is stability and economic prosperity. Morales himself stressed, when winning the elections in 2005, that instability reigned not only in Bolivia, but in other countries in the region, such as Ecuador and Argentina. Upon reaching power, his priorities were the nationalization of oil products and the drafting of a new Constitution. The fact that an indigenous and "cocalero" (coca grower) assumed the presidency and carried out both measures gave shape to what the ruling party called the "Democratic Cultural Revolution".

These were difficult times, when no project prevailed over another. "Catastrophic tie", Vice President Álvaro García Linera called the period from 2006 to 2009. The Bolivian president could not land in some areas of the country, there were constant acts of violence and even outbreaks of armed rebellion.

After fixing the policy, it was time for the economy and administration. Today, the government shows remarkable rates: falling poverty and extreme poverty (from 38% to less than 15%), falling inequality rates, sustained growth more than quadrupled of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), inflation control and Bolivianization savings.

After three reelections, the Bolivian population was asked in a referendum in 2016 whether they agreed to modify the Bolivian constitution to allow indefinite reelection. Morales lost, but the court allowed his candidacy and today he has a serious chance of remaining in charge of the country.

However, for the political scientist and professor at the Catholic University of La Paz, Marcelo Arequipa, the idea that today Morales is presented as the only guarantee of stability also incorporates certain risks.

"It is a message that is based on a technocratic logic of power management and that is not Morales' symbolic strength. In presenting it in this way, it does not explore what Morales symbolizes, but what good public administration can mean. It serves for the conjuncture, but not for something long-winded. "

If the opinion polls are not wrong, and bearing in mind the 49% of the votes obtained by the government in 2016, support for MAS between 40% and 45% can be expected. In that case, it would remain the country's main force by far.

But there is a key factor to think about in the future: in 2005, Morales obtained almost 54%, in the 2008 recall referendum he received 67%, in the 2009 presidential elections it was 64% and in 2014 it was 63%. These percentages also gave him control of two thirds of the congress, a scenario that will hardly be repeated after this Sunday's election.

There are several explanations for the weariness of the ruling party. On the one hand, the simple passage of time. And the defeat in the 2016 referendum and, more recently, in the final moments of the electoral campaign, events such as the fires in Chiquitania, also contributed in part to the deterioration of the governing party's image.

"They say that an area the size of the department of Cochabamba was set on fire," reports Iván Velásquez. Sectors of public opinion have blamed the government for indirectly endorsing these fires with a series of measures to expand the agricultural and livestock frontier.

"There is always weeding and burning from August, but in this period of this year there was more. Sugar cane for ethanol, pasture for cattle or soy for biodiesel - and some say that also for the coca leaf", he analyzes the Economist. However, in the polls, the electoral damage of these facts seems marginal.

Today, there are several fronts that question the Bolivian Executive, sometimes with violence. Recently, there have been riots in the cities of Santa Cruz de la Sierra and Potosí, as part of Morales' campaign acts. However, the demands of each region are diverse and unrelated.

"The regional historical fracture is old. It is not a question of ignoring Morales, but of a struggle to see who governs the elites of these regions", explains Professor Marcelo Arequipa, in relation to the tensions existing in the prosperous Santa Cruz. "In Potosí it was different, because the protests stem from problems of the civic committee with the government," adds Velásquez. "The disagreements have to do with promises broken by privileges, mining conflicts with cooperatives and about lithium."

Arequipa, however, has focused not so much on the first or second candidate (Morales and Carlos Mesa, of the Left Revolutionary Front), but on the third and fourth (Senator Óscar Ortiz, candidate for the Bolivia Alliance Says No, and the evangelical pastor of Korean origin with an ultra right speech Chi Hyun Chung).

"It seems that whoever will lead the MAS post-hegemonic project will be someone clearly identified with the right," predicts Arequipa. "The left is stuck with the taboo of thinking about Morales' succession."

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