June 19, 2005

Elections 2005? A Look at Parties and Actors

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At present time Bolivia is slowly moving forward, after the recent political crisis which resulted in the resignation of Carlos Mesa as president and the elevation to the highest office of former Supreme Court President, Eduardo Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, as current transitional President, inherited only one task: to preside over elections for President and Vice-president. That is, according to the Constitution.

But, this is not as easy as it seems. If things are ever as easy in politics! Mr Rodriguez actually has two mandates emanating from two different sources. The first source is the Bolivian Constitution. As explained earlier, according to the Bolivian main law, Mr Rodriguez has to call for presidential and vice-presidential elections. This is thought in the case that the Senate President and the lower chamber President are, for some reason, unable to step in for the president. In few words, it is just a renewal of the highest office.

However, the second mandate Mr Rodriguez got was from the social movements. These are the same social movements that brought about the crisis, who shut down the country, forced the resignation of former President Carlos Mesa, forced Mr Vaca Diez and Mr Cossio to resign to their constitutional right to succeed Mr Mesa and forced the naming of Mr Rodriguez as transitional president. These movements backed Mr Rodriguez for president because they thought Rodriguez will then call for "general elections". That means, a total renewal of not only the executive power but also, and for the movements most importantly, the renewal of the legislative power.

Now, if Mr Rodriguez will be able to deliver, is a big question.

Currently the decision is not entirely in Mr Rodriguez's hands, but it is (and it has been) in the hands of the legislative. Congress will have to decide whether there will be "general" or just presidential and vice-presidential elections. This is because the Constitution indicates that in this particular case, when the Supreme Court President, assumes power, there have to be elections for president and vice-president within 180 days. However, since there is great pressure for the entire legislative body to be renewed, Congress will have to assume the responsibility of either amending the constitution or finding a way to over stepp it. Among the solutions is also the possibility of the entire legislative body's resignation. In the worst case, Congress will decide to disregard the demands of the social movements and proceed with the renewal of the executive only. This last possibility might prove to be the most problematic.

Now, assuming there will be general elections called in the next six months, the questions arise on who will be the candidates. But, who at this point looks presidentiable? Thanks to the folks of La Razón we have a quasi poll on five traditional political parties, three parties with experience in municipal elections and one citizen's group.

According to La Razón, none of them have a definite candidate. I guess it is a bit too early to say. Also, the poll reveals that neither party has a coherent and ready position on the issues of nationalization of the hydrocarbons, the Constituent Assembly (CA), the autonomic referendum and the elections of the prefetcs.

La Razón says the last party winner of the general elections, MNR, remains involved in an internal conflict of identity. A clear successor of Sanchez de Lozada has not emerged yet. There are visible and deep division between the Sanchez de Lozada followers and those who want a new face in the leadership.

The leader of NRF (New Republican Force), Manfred Reyes Villa, has expressed his decision to wait for the announcement of new "general" elections. Reyes Villa thinks that the CA, the nationalization of hydrocarbons and the autonomic referendum must be resolved by the next administration.

The MIR does not have a set position on the pending issues. Furthermore, the party has its current leader, Jaime Paz Zamora, as a candidate for the elections for Prefects. One other thing, the party has a strong arm in Santa Cruz where the clear leader is Hormando Vaca Diez. Mr Vaca Diez has strong support in this city and has recently emerged as a possible presidential candidate. If the latter is the case, the position of Mr Vaca Diez on the nationalization of the hydrocarbons is clearer. He has expressed his belief that nationalization will be a detriment for the country and that the autonomic referendum will have to be held before the CA.

Equaly unprepared and without a clear programme, is ADN. This party is still trying to recuperate from the effects of October 2003. Mr Jorge Quiroga, its former leader and former Bolivian President, has not pronounced himself either. In fact, he has decided to waith and see.

Among the political organizations emerging strong out of the last municipal elections in 2004 is the Plan Progreso (Plan Progress, PP), led by Jose Luis Paredes and in government in the city of El Alto. This party is very much limited by what goes on in El Alto and thus has not even accepted the possibility of new elections. Mr Paredes is undecided whether he will run for office or not. However, he is a strong candidate for a vice-presidency and was invited to join an alliance by Mr Quiroga himself.

For its part, the Movimiento Sin Miedo (Movement Without Fear, MSM), led by current La Paz Mayor, Juan del Grandado, has decided that Mr del Granado will not run for office, but rather prefer an alliance with other parties.

Union Nacional (Nacional Union, UN) led by the industrialist Samuel Doria Medina will also take the position of wait and see until Congress decides whether to call for "general" elections or not.

The only true new face is the leader of the Potosi citizen's group Alianza Social (Social Alliance, AS), Mr Rene Joaquino. Mr Joaquino is the current Mayor of Potosi and he has expressed his desire to stay in that office. Nonetheless, he has not discarded the possibility of running if his supporters ask him to.

Meanwhile, Evo Morales, leader of MAS has expressed that his party is preparing for elections and will pursue the presidency. The party's programme includes the nationalization of all the natural resources and the consideration of departamental autonomies within the framework of the CA.

One of the resons for the "general" elections is to renew, more or less, the entire discredited political class in government. Will this happen? It is easy to observe that, at least when it comes to the traditional parties, there will not be any renewal. The names thrown are almost the same as the last elections. Quiroga, Reyes Villa, Morales, Paz Zamora, Vaca Diez, etc. As for the newcomers, Mr del Granado, comes from the Movimiento Bolivia Libre (Bolivia Free Movement, MBL), a long time ally of MIR; Mr Paredes and Mr Doria Medina were MIR militants. According to La Razón, many of the new political forces only serve as recycling venue for old politicians.

La Razón also published an article about the result of another Apoyo poll on the credibility of some presidenciables. At the top of the list we find Mr Doria Medina (UN), with 35% credibility within Bolivians. He runs though second to now former President Mesa, who cannot run for office this time around. Second in the list is Mr Quiroga (ADN) with 32%. Third and fourth are Mr Morales (MAS) with 19% and Mr Reyes Villa (NFR) with 14%. Mr Paz Zamora (MIR) has 13% and Juan Carlos Duran (MNR) has 11%. Please click on the photo above to see a more detailed picture.

Who will emerge as the leading candidate for the upcoming elections? It remains to be seen, first, if there will be elections and if the elections will be "general" or only for the president and vice-president, who will then have to finish the current term. It all rests on the legislative's ability to deal with the current and ongoing crisis.

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