Bolivia: Election Results Reveal Emergence of New Opposition Force

originally posted at Global Voices

Soon after the final vote was cast in the April 4th municipal and departmental elections and the official results began pouring in, many bloggers started to provide their analysis and interpretation of the results. On that day, Bolivians would set out to elect local mayors and members of the city council in 327 municipalities, as well as governors and departmental assembly members in the 9 departments.

After winning re-election in December 2009, President Evo Morales and his party Movement Towards Socialism (MAS for its initials in Spanish) sought to consolidate power by maintaining those regions in which they traditionally had strong support, but also to put forth “invited” candidates in opposition regions that may provide them with different results from previous losses.

Citizen casting a vote in the city of La Paz by @patojv and used with permission.

Citizen casting a vote in the city of La Paz by @patojv and used with permission.

Mario Durán of the blog Palabras Libres [es] notes that the MAS won 6 of 9 governor seats, but only the mayorship of 2 of the 9 departmental capitals. This he notes, leaves the victory with a “taste of ash.” Duran’s brother, Jaime, also chimes in with some questions and answers about the results:

¿Qué significan estos resultados? ¿Se puede hablar de una derrota del masismo?

Cómo siempre no hay una respuesta única a estas preguntas. Es una derrota porque no se colmaron las expectativas. Perder tres alcaldías en Occidente no son buenas noticias. No es una derrota porque el nivel meso (las gobernaciones departamentales) está bajo control del partido azul y es en ese nivel que se construirán las autonomías. Aunque debe matizarse que los departamentos en los que se encuentra la riqueza hidrocarburifera no están bajo las alas del oficialismo. Esto generará problemas y se lo verá dentro de poco.

What do these results mean? Can we talk about a defeat for the MAS?

As always, there is not only one answer for these questions. It is a defeat because they did not meet expectations. To lose 3 mayorships in the West (traditionally strong support for MAS) is not good news. It is not a defeat because at the mid-level (departmental governments) they are under control of the blue party (MAS) and at that level the autonomies are constructed. Even though it must be noted that in the departments in which the hydrocarbon wealth can be found, they are not under the control of the government party. This will create problems and will soon be seen.

Blogger Pablo Andrés Rivero of Purple Fire [es] writes that, “it is clear that the MAS-IPSP is the outright winner, but… there are many ‘buts'”

One of these “buts” took place in the city of La Paz, which is also the seat of government and where the MAS has enjoyed considerable support. However, its mayoral candidate Elizabeth Salguero, who had been leading in the polls, was defeated by Luis Revilla from the party Without Fear Movement (MSM for its initials in Spanish). It was this result that attracted the most attention in the Bolivian blogosphere, as many bloggers provided their thoughts on why the MAS lost in La Paz and what this means for the party and its party chief for the future.

Juan del Granado, who founded the MSM, had been mayor of La Paz for a decade before deciding not to run for a 3rd term in the 2010 elections. As a former human-rights lawyer, del Granado had successfully prosecuted the first Latin American dictator in the courts when he placed Luis García Meza behind bars in the mid 1990s.

During his 2nd term in office, the MSM became allies with the MAS party. However, for the 2010 elections, the MSM chose to put forth its own candidate, rather than support Salguero in the municipal elections. This led to a war of words from President Morales and many of his supporters, which included threats of placing del Granado into the Chonchocoro maximum security prison and warnings that the central government would not work with elected leaders from opposition party. This rhetoric was something which the bloggers and evidently the voters noted, as Revilla was elected. Some voters like Alberto Canedo (@betocomics) captured the image of their vote for Revilla in this Twitpic photo, as well as Patricio Javier Vera (@patojv):

Photo of vote cast by @patojv and used with permission.

Photo of vote cast by @patojv and used with permission.

Daniela Otero of the blog Dejando Huella [es] writes:

La guerra sucia emprendida contra el Movimiento Sin Miedo, uno de los más importantes aliados del proceso de cambio en occidente, fue interpretada por los ciudadanos como una sucesión de actos de deslealtad y arbitrariedad.

The dirty war set upon the Without Fear Movement, one of the most important allies in the process of change in the Occident, was interpreted by the citizenry as a succession of acts of disloyalty and arbitrariness.

Blogger and political scientist Miguel Centellas of Pronto* adds that there was a bit of hypocrisy in these accusations:

During the campaign, the rhetoric intensified to the point where Evo and others threatened to jail the popular La Paz mayor (and democratization-era hero) Juan Del Granado. Apparently, after more than four years as close working allies, Evo suddenly discovered that Juan “Sin Miedo” (as he & his party are called) was “corrupt” due to his previous participation in pre-2005 governments. Of course, this didn’t stop MAS from recruiting Roberto Fernandez, the son of populist Max Fernandez of UCS (both of whom actively took part in the worst of the patron-client relationships of the 1990s “neoliberal” era). Roberto was recruited to run for the mayorship of Santa Cruz against Percy Fernandez (no relationship) and Johnny (Roberto’s brother). Percy looks to have won an easy reelection.

Richard Sánchez of the digital magazine La Mala Palabra [es] was especially tough on the MAS and clearly stated his intention to not vote for Salguero, and encouraged his readers to refrain from casting a ballot for the MAS candidate. He writes the following, 3 days prior to the elections, why people should not vote for the MAS:

Porque ese empleado a quien le dimos pega en Palacio por segunda vez, ahora amenaza. Se da el lujo de amenazar diciendo que no trabajará con alcaldes o gobernadores que ganen y que no sean del MAS. ¿No se da cuenta que es presidente de TODOS los bolivianos, le guste o no? Un embajador gringo también nos amenazó hace tiempo para que no votemos por Evo y todos votamos por Evo. Ahora Evo cae en las mismas amenazas. LMP y ninguno tiene ni debe ser amenazado. NO VOTES POR EL MAS CARAJO.

Because that employee (President Morales) who we placed in the Palace for the second time, is now giving threats. He gives himself the luxury of giving threats saying that he will not work with mayors or governors who win and who are not from the MAS. Does he not realize that he is the President of ALL Bolivians, whether he likes it or not? A U.S. ambassador also warned us awhile ago (1997) to not vote for Evo and then we all voted for Evo. Now Evo is falling into giving the same threats. LMP (La Mala Palabra) and no one else should be threatened. DON’T VOTE FOR MAS, DAMMIT.

Even though del Granado did not participate in the local elections as a candidate, many have been calling him one of the day’s winners, partly due to the errors committed by Morales and the MAS party. Otero summarizes this [es]:

Quizá, la lección más importante de estas elecciones es que los errores políticos siempre pasan altas facturas y que los que se cometieron en el caso específico de La Paz sólo contribuyeron al surgimiento de una nueva fuerza política nacional: el Movimiento Sin Miedo.

Maybe, the most important lesson in these elections is that the political errors always come with consequences and those that committed these errors in La Paz cause the rise of a new national political force: the Without Fear Movement.

Jaime Durán, writes that at the head of this new political force is del Granado, and it is a different kind of opposition [es], because it is also an left-wing opposition, as opposed to the traditional right-wing opposition to the MAS. Victories by the MSM also were recorded in the city of Oruro, another traditional MAS stronghold, and strong finishes in other parts of the country.

At the victory press conference appearing with the mayor-elect Revilla, MSM supporters greeted del Granado with calls for him to run for President in 2014. Despite the springboard to the national scene based on these results, del Granado said that “2014 is still very far away.”

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