April 09, 2005

The Regionalization of Politics

MABB is a registered TM.

While president Mesa is traveling, first to the Pope's funeral and then to Japan for a meeting with the governors of the Inter American Development Bank, the president of the Senate, Hormando Vaca Diez, is the interim president.

According to press reports, the Congress is pressing on with work and thus has passed the new law authorizing and regulating the Prefect elections.

The new legislation sets the date of the election for August 12, 2005. This date is set having into account how much time the National Electoral Court needs to get ready.

This is good in the sense that the agenda set as part of the solution to the social disturbances is making progress. Of course, there are some groups happier than others. In this case, the ones who are pleased are the Civic Committee of Santa Cruz. So much so, that they were present at the promulgation of the law.

Consequently, and in line with the decentralization process started in the 1990s, there is a visible movement towards the regionalization of politics. Currently, the traditional political parties (MNR, MIR, NFR, UCS, ADN) have started to look for suitable candidates, in each region rather than supporters. This move comes on the back of a marked decline in popular support, highlighted in the results of last December 2004 municipal elections.

Moreover, the traditional political parties have to compete with other political organizations since the passing of the Law of Citizen Groups and Indigenous Peoples in July 2004. Thanks to this law, local citizen groups and indigenous organizations can run in local elections. This was one of the major reasons the traditional parties have lost so much support at the local level.

However, the political parties are responding in accordance and seeking to regionalize themselves in response to the regionalization of politics. This is a seemingly positive development, if the regionalization translates into these parties being more responsible to local needs. In theory, they would incorporate local needs into their national agendas, while at the same time, at the local level, the representative would carry the national agenda and adapt it to local needs.

It can also result in the local concentration of power and the creation of clientilist relationships which are not responsive to local needs. Of course, one has to admit that in the Bolivian decentralization system there is a mechanism which would ideally prevent this. In municipalities, the government is answerable not only to the people but to the Comite de Vigilancia (Watch Committee). This committee is composed by citizens who are members of local civic groups. Additionally, the committee has the power to stop the government's funding. And, in the most remote parts in the Altiplano, some communities have been using what they call "communal law" to keep their governments in line. (the issue of communal law is not sanctioned by the central government, it's illegal)

Often though, the reality is different. The local government is dependent on and loyal to the central office of the particular party. Thus, in effect, centralizing the system once again. This may happen if the local government and the Watch Committee are supporters of the same party. For example, an order could come from the leader of the party instructing the local government and the local Watch Committee to block a highway. Since the local government and the Watch Committee are supporters of the same party and since both benefit from this relationship, they take the orders without questioning. Just for the sake of argumentation, we can say that the benefit is pecuniary.

In many ways, this is how parties like the Movement Towards Socialism or organizations like the FEJUVE-El Alto function. The power is centralized and when the actions are coordinated, the result is a devastating blow to the Bolivian system.