May 25, 2004

Email from a reader

MABB is a registered TM.

An email from a reader asks very interesting questions. Following, is the unedited email:

Well, good article, although it is almost impossible to answer these questions in a short article, as they are quite complex. That is in my view another weakness of the entire referendum. Too many questions and too complex to answer (especially in a country with such a high illiteracy, as you point out). To be specific: how will they measure if the referendum has succeeded or failed? How will the government measure the answers to these questions? Plus the question about whether or not the current policy and thus the current government is supported, has no place in a referendum. For the very reason that, what happens if the answer is no.

Moreover, most people won't really understand what they are saying yes or no to, and can be all too easily swayed by lobbying interest groups to vote one way or another. It can also lead to a splitting of the population, which might again result in more public turmoil on the streets.

What do you think?

My answer

I agree with the statement that there are too many questions. There are too many issues at stake and that might lead to confusion and prevent some people from understanding the referendum and its goals. However, there is nothing that sets limits on the number of questions in a referendum. Ironically, you are not the only one who is uncomfortable with these questions. Manfred Reyes Villa, the leader of NFR (New Republican Force), asked the government to rephrase the questions. In his opinion, they do not reflect the people's voice.
How will the government measure the success or failure of the referendum, you ask?

Well, I am thinking the government is heavily betting on the "yes" vote. That is how the questions were designed, in the first place. That is how they will be measured. They realize that the population is not the most literate, therefore, in their words, to give chance illiterate people to vote, they color coded the ballot. That is, "green" for "yes" and "red" for "no". Again, they are hoping to get as many greens as they can. The government's information campaign is concentrating in showing where is the green square and what does that mean. That will be, for the government, a measure of success.

On the other hand, if the worst happens and there are more "no" votes than "yes" votes, as stated earlier, the government is in big trouble. That would mean, that the people does not trust Mesa to do a good job and to set good policies that benefit Bolivia.

I guess, in the end, the outcome of the referendum will be the ultimate measure. It will decide whether the Mesa administration stays or goes.

On your question on what has a place in a referendum.......

Actually, what I've read, about referendums, is that they are legislative and/or constitutional mechanisms providing for the people of a country to decide on important issues affecting them. These issues can be political, legislative or social. The questions can originate from the legislative or executive branches of government.

As far as I can understand, the questions asked in the Bolivian referendum, are valid. The only question that, perhaps, is a little doubtful is question number three. This question asks about the recovery of the state oil company (YPFB). It seems to me, this is a question more for the ministry of energy than for the people. However, we have to keep two things in mind here. One is, if YPFB is recovered, it is likely to have an impact on the people of Bolivia by means of employment and revenues generated by the commercialization of oil. And, two, that is what presumably the Bolivian people, through the organized labor and other social organizations, want.


Turmoil, there will be anyways. That is what I talk about on my next article.

Thanks for reading and keep on coming back!