On the basis of preliminary results, sitting President Evo Morales won 62% of the vote in the elections held on Sunday 6 December in Bolivia.
In the legislature, Mr Morales' Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) appears to have come close to its target of two thirds of the seats in the new Plurinational Legislative Assembly, winning at least 24 of the 36-seat Senate and 84 in the 130-seat Chamber of Deputies. Morales’ right-wing opponent Manfred Reyes Villa, the former prefect of Cochabamba, received 27% of the votes, and Samuel Doria Medina, a wealthy businessman, only 6%. With a two third majority for the MAS, the opposition will not be able to block government legislation.
The opposition did not manage to form a political bloc in the run-up to the elections. They could not agree upon attractive candidates nor form a solid alternative platform. As a matter of fact, the greatest confrontation in the electoral campaign was not between MAS and the opposition but rather between the two principal opposition alliances: the Progress Plan for Bolivia-National Convergence (PPB-CN) and National Unity (UN). They fought over who would best represent the part of the country that does not sympathize with MAS. This battle is an example of the crisis of leadership, identity and strategic vision in the opposition parties.
The victory of the MAS was especially remarkable in the eastern departments of the country, where the right-wing opposition usually has the largest support. In Santa Cruz, the MAS won just over 40% of the votes (two seats of the four Senate Seats), compared with 33% in 2005. In Tarija, the MAS received around 49% of the votes (compared with 31% in 2005), achieving another two Senate seats there.
Only in the departments Pando and Beni did the opposition prevail as expected. The results of the elections in the so-called ‘Media Luna’ lowland departments overthrows the notion that the country is somehow evenly divided politically between ‘east’ and ‘west’ - lowlands and highlands. This development is not solely due to sudden support for Mr Morales, but also reflects the polarization within the opposition. In Santa Cruz, violence caused by the far-right in September 2008, created rifts amongst the local elites, as did the alleged involvement of prominent figures from the local civic committee in a terrorist plot that sought to spearhead secession from the rest of Bolivia.
Free and fair
The elections have been declared free and fair by various observers, including the Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union (EU) and the US Carter Center. The registration of voters by means of biometric voting cards - seen by many as an impossible project to implement in the time available - proved to be a great success, removing doubts (voiced strongly by the opposition) about the quality of the electoral roll. In the end more than 5 million voters were registered. Bolivians living abroad - specifically in Argentina, Brazil, Spain and the United States – were able to vote for the first time. Participation nationwide was extremely high, with only 6% of those eligible to vote failing to do so.
The results of this national election change representation within the legislature. Especially, the Chamber of Deputies will see new faces. A lot of deputies do not have any experience in national politics but come from social movements. Their election will surely help fortify links between the government and civil society, albeit at the expense of experience in the legislature. Moreover, political polarization between the national government and the regions may not be over yet, as the next departmental elections are coming up in April 2010.