Bolivia's constituent assembly election


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I've been too busy lately to properly post about the upcoming Bolivian constituent assembly elections. My excuses: I (temporarily) moved to Chicago (in anticipation of a move to Pennsylvania), I've also had to do some teaching & dissertation related work, wedding planning, and, of course, the World Cup. Still, I've kept up w/ the Bolivian news reports of the past two weeks & wanted to post a few words about tomorrow's election.

And this election will be quite interesting for various reasons. First, it's the first constituent election in Bolivia in recent memory, and the first since the start of the democratization process begun in 1978-1982. While Bolivia transitioned successfully from authoritarianism to democracy between 1982-1985, it reverted to the 1967 constitution (which was not written in democratic times). So. The transition was a "pacted transition" but didn't produce a new political constitution — though the constitution was amended in 1994 & 2004.

Second, this is the first election using a two-tiered electoral system where neither tier is connected (unlike the mixed-member electoral system used since 1997 to elect presidents & assemblies). In short, this is new & complicated proportional representation electoral system. No voters are familiar w/ it, and fewer still will properly understand it. So it's going to be interesting to see what the final votes — and their corresponding seat counts — will tell.

Third, this is also the first election for representatives that also coincides w/ a referendum. This is also only the second referendum election in Bolivia's democratic history. Voters will be asked whether they support regional (that is, departmental political autonomy). One of the key demands of the "losers" of the October 2003 "gas war" was that the country's regions be granted political (and economic?) autonomy.

Evo & MAS have come out publicly against regional autonomies. The Comité Cívico pro Santa Cruz staged a rally a few days ago (w/ perhaps as many as 100,000 in attendance) to, once again, demand regional political autonomy. The issue is divisive because the regions w/ the most natural resources (specifically, natural gas) are the regions where autonomista support is strongest. It's clear that the "SÍ" vote will win in those regions — it's unclear whether it'll be enough for a majority of the national vote.

The referendum may also serve as a good basis to judge the strength of Evo & MAS. The same can be said about the constituent assembly, of course. But in the referendum the issue is a simple yes or no vote. And w/ Evo, MAS, and its allies investing large amounts of political capital in a "No" vote — in contrast to opposition parties & other MAS opponents investing the same into a "Sí" vote — the referendum vote may give a good indicator of how "deep" Evo's support is.

Likewise, while Evo won a decisive majority of the vote in the last presidential election, his party's vote (in the single-seat district portion of the vote) was just more than 10% lower. MAS also didn't win in four of the country's departments (Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, and Pando) and barely placed a distant third in two of them. Similarly, MAS (Evo's party) won only three of the country's nine prefectures (regional governorships). MAS didn't even win the prefectureships of La Paz (PODEMOS) or Cochabamba (a PODEMOS alliance member). Even the party of former president Sanchez de Lozada (aka Goni) won the prefectureship of Tarija — and came w/in a hair's breath of wining in Santa Cruz (which was won by an autonomista leader & PODEMOS alliance member).

The bottom line: I don't think Evo will be able to use the election into a rubber stamp to approve his government's plans (or any Venezuelan ambitions). There is too much opposition, and it's too heavily concentrated in key areas were votes can be won. Plus, w/ recent schisms w/in the MAS alliance (a loose confederation of diverse syndicalist social movements), it's possible that MAS may only win a thin majority. And since Evo's publicly stated that he wants to win 70% of the seats to the constituent assembly, he's raised the bar a little too high, perhaps.

I guess we'll see tomorrow.

NOTE: Matt Shugart suggests that rather than describing this electoral system as some form of PR, I should instead us "two-vote, two-tier parallel closed-list limited-nominations" electoral system (see his post). He also references these earliers posts (here & here) that I should've originally linked to, as well.

Posted by Miguel at 07:20 PM


You are writing a lot about MAS and Evo. Bur what about the other main parties. Which of them should be taken seriously, PODEMOS, UN, MNR? ADN, UCS, NFR MIR??? What do they wont? Etc!

Posted by: Fredrik Lindqvist at July 2, 2006 01:51 PM