Bolivia Political Reviews
President Evo Morales has been re-elected for the third time since the Socialism Movement (MAS) came to power in 2006, and support for MAS is still enormous. The government is embarking on a new five-year period in 2015.
The election held in October 2014 confirmed the MAS government’s strong support in Bolivia after eight years in power, with 61.36 percent of the vote. MAS and Morales won the business summit Samuel Doria Medina, with the National Unity Party (UN) with 24.23 percent of the vote and former President Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga of the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) with 9.04 percent. The Green Party with Indigenous Peoples Leader from TIPNIS Fernando Vargas as Presidential candidate and the Movement without Fear (MSM) with former La Paz Mayor Juan del Granado as candidate both got under three percent of the vote and ended up under the barricade.
With these results, MAS retains two-thirds majority in Congress, winning eight of the nine counties in total. Three parties are represented in parliament, MAS with 25 senators and 88 MPs, and the two right-wing parties UN with 9 and 32 and PDC with 2 and 10 representatives respectively. MAS was founded in 2001 and is a collection of social movements of indigenous groups, small farmers, the trade union movement and parts of the middle class. Nearly half of the MPs are now women. The election also became a political and symbolic victory in that MAS won the low-lying Santa Cruz town, where the opposition previously stood strong, after MAS signed several agreements with parts of the agricultural sector in the area.
Eight year state-building project
The election campaign focused on the country’s economy and growth, after eight years of economic nationalism, strengthening the state, high commodity prices and macroeconomic stability. The government has given priority to public administration, natural resource management, and social programs. At the same time, the MAS government has been heavily involved in technological innovation as part of a state-building project. This has included the popular gondola lift linking La Paz and the highland village of El Alto, the satellite Tupac Katari, the launch of Cochabamba as the “knowledge city”, the controversial proposal for the use of nuclear power, as well as infrastructure development with both road construction, hydropower and airports.
According to Countryaah, MAS has launched a new twelve-point plan until 2020 which includes
- Reducing extreme poverty.
- Universalization of basic services such as water, electricity and gas connections for households.
- Housing, health and education.
- Technological revolution, including nuclear power as a source of energy.
- Industrialization of the oil and gas industry, as well as investment of USD 800 million in the lithium industry.
- Strengthen the agricultural sector and food sovereignty.
- Water and irrigation projects.
- Infrastructure development with roads, trains and airports.
- Programs such as pensions.
- Security and combating drug traffic.
- Fight corruption and strengthen the justice system.
- Internationally, MAS will focus on “people’s diplomacy”, anti-imperialism, reform of the UN, a new international financial infrastructure, access to the sea, protection of the Coca leaf and indigenous rights.
While the first reign of MAS (2006-2009) was characterized by a gathering on the left and the constitutional project, the second period (2009-2014) has been more marked by divisions among those who got MAS to power initially. The first period of the MAS government was marked by polarization between those supporting the MAS project and the high-political business elite who made a number of unsuccessful attempts to delegitimize the MAS government. The opposition has consisted of the traditional parties in Bolivia and leaders of the lowland counties in the so-called “crescent”: Pando, Tarija, Beni, Santa Cruz and Chuquisaca. The economic elite has been represented by so-called citizen committees linked to large landowners, commercial agriculture and the banking sector. However, the opposition was fragmented and failed to significantly challenge the MAS government.
However, during the second government period from 2010-2014, the MAS government faced a number of internal challenges. With MAS in position, state revenues have increased significantly and more and more groups are struggling to get part of these funds. The various movements no longer fight against a common enemy, the right side and the business elite, and are divided into issues of martial law. Some are closely linked to the governing party and have great confidence in the MAS project, while others have lost patience and demand faster and more profound reforms.
In recent years, the government has entered into agreements with former enemies, such as the agrobusiness elite in the lowlands, to ensure the country’s food security and agricultural production. The latter also marked the result of the 2014 election, where support from the low-lying village of Santa Cruz has increased significantly. At the same time, migration from the highlands to the lowlands has also affected the political landscape, where land reform from 2006 has distributed land to highland migrants, many of whom support MAS’s change project. At the same time, the government has increased its presence in the lowlands and border areas with the help of the state development organization Ademaf and military in areas the state previously had little control over.
At the same time, the MAS government has faced a number of challenges and protests in recent years. This also says something about how civil society groups are still protesting and taking to the streets in disagreements, while the opposition is trying to take advantage of the conflicts. The media sector, which is largely owned by private players and the right side, has done its best to try to intensify the conflicts. Only one of the top twelve largest communications companies in Bolivia supports President Morales. Among those who have left the MAS change project are also a number of intellectuals who believe the process has not led to profound changes, but rather a number of disappointments. Focus on natural resource extraction and infrastructure development has created local conflicts, and other protests have arisen because of the introduction of tax for mining cooperatives, extended working hours for health workers, unfavorable conditions for transport workers and distribution of resources at the local level. In 2011, MAS experienced its first national crisis with the so-called “el gazolinazo” with protests against cuts in fuel subsidies, and later came strong reactions to the police action that was carried out against the so-called TIPNIS march in September 2011. MAS reaps criticism from parts of the left for favoring indigenous peoples and peasants from the highlands, lowering the environment and over-reliance on the extractive sector.