Another election weekend has just passed, this time for both regional governance and mayoral elections which are held simultaneously across the country. Evo Morales’ MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) suffered severe losses in key regions, most notably losing regional governance in La Paz to an opposition candidate called Felix Patzi, a former MAS politician promising to help La Paz’s growing middle class who are largely neglected by MAS’ policies. The opposition also managed to retain governance in the more affluent department of Santa Cruz.
MAS still holds regional governance in the majority of Bolivian departments including Cochabamba and Oruro but the loss of La Paz and Santa Cruz are considered major setbacks for the party and a wake up call against complacency.
The problem with MAS
Bolivian voters still largely support Evo but don’t share the same enthusiasm for his party. MAS are widely considered to be too dependent on Evo which doesn’t translate to votes on a regional level. The party has also recently been embroiled in various corruption scandals which has seriously damaged their reputation.
MAS also suffered grim results in the concurrent mayoral elections. Opposition parties won power in most of Bolivia’s major cities, taking control of Cochabamba and retaining power in La Paz and Santa Cruz. The most notable result occurred in El Alto, a traditional MAS stronghold, where a candidate of Samuel Medina’s party named Soledad Chapetón was was voted in as Mayor.
The El Alto case
The result is remarkable considering Samuel Medina is a white, wealthy, right-wing businessman – hardly the sort of politician the Aymara people of El Alto would normally identify with. Evo Morales previously stated that MAS will refuse to work with El Alto’s mayor’s office if the right hold power. Time will tell if he holds true to his word.
Regional politics are nice to know about but probably don’t have much effect on my life. I have actually been more concerned about government restrictions in the lead up to the elections.
In Bolivia, it is illegal to drive any form of motorized transport without a special permit on the day of the election, a law that supposedly dates back to the 1980’s when Bolivia was coming out of an era of dictatorship. Back then, safeguards against electoral fraud were understandably very primitive so some unscrupulous politicians paid willing Bolivians to travel between various cities in order to cast multiple votes.
These days, the electoral system is sufficiently organised to deter such scams but the for some reason the law still remains in place. One theory is that it is to avoid the possibility of mass protesting or rioting which are fairly common occurrences in Bolivia. To help enforce this law, road blocks were constructed at key points throughout La Paz.
This inconvenient no-driving law cut my Semana Santa (Easter) holiday short by two days. I planned to travel to Tarija on Saturday but all buses were cancelled because they wouldn’t arrive until Sunday.
Election weekends also entail the prohibition of alcohol. From Friday morning until Monday morning, no restaurant, bar or bottle shop is allowed to sell booze under the threat of a 7000 BOB (US$1000) fine. I would have thought if you go out for drinks on Friday night you would probably be okay to vote on Sunday, but obviously some government lawmakers disagree with me. The act of just being drunk during the three day period carries a 700 BOB (US$100) fine.
Despite the massive risk, many smaller locals shops were still willing to sell booze to trustworthy regular customers. Wait until there are no more customers in the store and bring your own backpack to discreetly hide your forbidden treasure.
In my neighborhood, election days turn into something reminiscent of a mini carnival. Food vendors line the streets offering all the usual Bolivian favorites, hawkers stretch rugs over the pavement to sell anything from pirated DVD’s to kitchenware, while women offer face painting services to children passing by. Considering nobody can travel anywhere, locals take advantage of the day by wondering around, eating and socializing. Given there are no reckless cars on the road, everybody gets on their bikes so it feels like another Dia del Peaton.