Evo Wins Another Term

Much to no-one’s surprise, Evo Morales steam rolled his way to another election victory on October 12th, 2014. His party, Moviemento Al Socialismo (Movement Towards Socialism), was the favorite by far and secured 61% of votes to give Morales a third term in office. Furthermore, the fact he received over 50% of total votes allows him to introduce new policies without having to get agreement from the opposition.

Evo wins

Evo wins again

Considering five major parties competed to run the country, 61% is a pretty convincing figure. So why is Evo’s is so popular?

Voters can relate to him

Evo, “the people’s man”, grew up in an impoverished family and spent much of his childhood working as a llama herder, receiving only very basic public education and missing out on university.

Upon election in 2006, he was the first ever indigenous president of Bolivia, an amazing fact considering 62% of Bolivians identify as indigenous. Much of his young adult life was spent lobbying for the rights of coca farmers and preaching socialist ideals which makes him identifiable to working class indigenous who are Bolivia’s largest voting demographic.

On the other hand, his biggest competitor this election, Samuel Doria Medina, comes from the wealthy, white, (former) ruling class and has assets including Burger King Bolivia as well as numerous five star hotels.

samuel-doria

Samual Doria Medina

A strong economy

Evo’s presidency has thus far had the good fortune to oversee an unprecedented commodities boom. Bolivia’s major exports of natural gas, minerals, soya beans and quinoa have attracted huge international demand while his decision to nationalize the hydrocarbons industry has further enhanced governments coffers. As a result of the commodities boom Morales, can boast a GDP three times higher than when he was elected in 2006. And it doesn’t look to be slowing down just yet, GDP in 2014 is forecast to grow 6.5%, the highest in South America.

He helps the poor

True to his socialist ideologies, Morales has invested Bolivia’s new-found wealth in programs benefiting the countries poorest citizens. Massive amounts of money have been poured into health, education, housing and welfare, while his new Mi Teleferico project (a cable car system) provides the mostly poor Aymara citizens of El Alto with easy access to their workplaces in the neighboring city of La Paz. All this is in stark contrast to previous presidents who were largely perceived to be in favor of supporting big business at the cost of the poor.

A peaceful Bolivia

Under Evo, Bolivia has for the first time experienced (relative) political stability. Until now, 36 of the last 83 Bolivian governments since independence have lasted for less than one year. Not to mention the 70’s when Bolivian politics were nothing more than a long string of coups and military dictatorships. The fact that we now have one person leading a stable country for eight years would have been unimaginable not so long ago.

So having said all that, 39% of Bolivians don’t think he is the right man for the job. What do his opponents have against him?

He cheated his way into a third term; kind of

Under Bolivia’s constitution, a president is only allowed to serve a maximum of two terms. In 2009, Evo introduced a new constitution with the aim of improving the rights of indigenous Bolivians by “rolling back half a millennium of colonialism, discrimination and humiliation”. This conveniently allowed him to convince the courts that his first term was under the old constitution which meant he could still have two terms under the new one. It will be interesting to see if he decides to change the constitution again to run for a fourth presidency in 2020.

He is a dictator

Such sentiments are laughable when comparing him to former Bolivian dictators, but by western standards there is certainly an authoritarian element to his rule. For example, Evo introduced a widely controversial land redistribution scheme as part of his 2009 constitution where his government repossessed vast areas of profitable land from their white owners and redistributed them among indigenous Bolivians. As you can imagine, this ruffled a few feathers among the wealthier former ruling class.

He’s said some pretty stupid stuff

In one infamous quote, Evo warned Bolivians not to eat too much chicken as it could turn them gay and make them bald. Apparently, he was referring to the fact chickens are injected with female hormones, although he later admitted that statement was “foolish”. He has also accused the CIA of covertly poisoning his fellow comrade Hugo Chavez with cancer, something even the most extreme conspiracy theorist might have trouble believing in.

He is a staunch opponent of the United States

Since his election, Evo has expelled the US ambassador, the entire Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) for “conspiring against his government”. He repeats a popular catchphrase “decolonization”, which seems to refer more to US imperialism than Bolivia’s Spanish conquistadors of yesteryear. In 2013, his private jet was denied entry into various European air spaces at the request of the US government because they believed he was personally harboring Edward Snowden, which turned out to be untrue. Evo later went on to declare the day would be observed as the “Day of Latin American and Bolivian Dignity”.

evo jet

Evo’s private jet

Bolivia has become too expensive

The cost of living has certainly risen dramatically during Evo’s presidency (although fortunately for this blogger the country is still dirt cheap by western standards). However, the increase is a direct result of Evo’s decision to more than double the minimum wage since taking office, rather than financial mismanagement. The latest increase was 20% in April 2014, up from 1200 BOB (US$175) to 1488 BOB (US$215) per month for a full-time employee. US$215 per month is still nowhere near enough to live a comfortable existence in Bolivia so anyone with a social conscience might have difficulty disagreeing with this policy. Nonetheless, many business owners and the upper-class remain defiantly opposed.

So is Mr. Morales really a good choice for Bolivia’s top job? Then answer really depends on how high you stand on the socio-economic ladder. For those on the top, his policies pose a serious threat to their fortunes. But for the struggling masses desperately trying to climb the ladder, “Con Evo Vamos Bien” (With Evo we’re going well).

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2 Responses to Evo Wins Another Term

  1. Peter says:

    Good blogpost, but that paragraph “He cheated his way into a third term; kind of.” could use some elaboration.
    First, “He was then able to convince the courts (and the people) that his first term was under the old constitution”: he didn’t convince anyone on the courts, he replaced them with his own people through popular judicial ‘elections’ where the candidates were first filtered by a MAS controlled assembly, hence the choice on the ballot paper was between Masista candidates and Masista candidates.
    Predictably, both the new Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE – high electoral court) and the new Tribunal Constitutional Plurinacional (TCP – high constitutional court) have done Evo’s biddings ever since they were installed, sometimes in blatant contradiction with the new Constitution, as was the case when Evo was allowed to run for a 3rd consecutive term.

    After his second win in December of 2009, the MAS majority in the Asamblea abolished subsidies to political parties. This sounds sympathetic, but in practice it meant that for the 2014 Presidential the other parties were left with little to no money to run a campaign, while MAS with its fingers in the Bolivian state’s coffers, could put in as much money as they pleased. This could be seen on television: while of all the opposition only Samuel Doria Medina provided an occasional commercial, Evo’s commercials were on pretty much all of the time on all the popular channels. On top of that, there were other commercials by the ministries of Economy and Finance and Transparancy, the Customs service and the Tax service, all praising Evo’s work while not mentioning Evo.
    During this election period, Evo also used the inaugaration of public works as part of his campaign. The day after the TSE publicized a ruling that this was not allowed, Evo inaugurated the yellow line of the Teleferico (cable cart system) in La Paz. The TSE never even mentioned, let alone punish it.

    In 2011 a census was held by the national statistics institute INE. Until this very day there are no official results, but some version of the results were used by the TSE to create a new division of voting districts and seats in parliament. According to the census and the new division of seats, La Paz now has less inhabitants than it had in the last census of 2003. Which is curious, as the city has grown both in extension and in height – houses being replaced with skyscrapers. According to the latest census, there must be a lot of empty buildings in La Paz, and accordingly a seat was redistributed to the campo (countryside), as happened in several other areas.
    In reality, this means that in these last Presidential elections, a vote was no longer a vote: in the countryside (Evo’s stronghold) considerably less votes were needed for one seat than in the cities, where Evo’s popularity is a lot lower.

    Then, during the election itself, several incidents were reported, as in the case where a result for a voting district was published on the TSE’s website before the votes were counted. Predictably, MAS won by a large margin. Predictably, the TSE discarded the other parties’ objections.

    After all the votes were counted, it was established that two of the other parties, the Green Party and the Movimiento Sin Miedo (MSM – ‘movement without fear’) hadn’t reached the 3% threshhold and disbanded. In MSM’s case, this meant that 2 districts (=2 seats) they had won in La Paz were redistributed to MAS. Thereby giving MAS a majority of two thirds + 2 seats in the combined Asamblea Legislativa.
    Given all that I’ve mentioned above, especially in MSM’s case, that missed the 3% by only 0.1% of the vote, it’s highly likely that if all parties had competed under equal conditions, they would have reached the threshhold and kept their 2 seats in the Assembly.

    All in all, there’s no doubt that Evo is still the most popular president in Bolivia’s recent history and possibly in all of its history. But had the 2014 Presidential elections been held under fair and equal circumstances, he would probably have picked up around 50% of the vote. And had the TSE still been an independent institution, he wouldn’t have been allowed to run in the first place.

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  2. Pingback: Local elections and travel restrictions | A GRINGO IN BOLIVIA

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