Lately there has been much undeserved speculation as to what were the chances that Evo Morales Aima, leader of the leftist Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), would be elected the next president of Bolivia, next December 4th. This topic has been hotly talked about within the Bolivian blogsphere as well as the main stream media (MSM). Fellow bloggers like Barrio Flores, boz, and blog from Bolivia, have analyzed Evo's chances. Numerous articles in the MSM keep analyzing and speculating whether Evo has any chances (here, here). What is more, even the US government has recently weighed on the issue by stating they would continue working with any government emerging from the December 2005 elections. Yes, even if it were Evo Morales.
However, what are the real chances of Evo Morales to become the next president-elect of Bolivia? According to my analysis of the numbers, his chances are not very good.
A look back at the 2002 elections
The argument is, after the 2002 general elections, Evo Morales became the primary candidate for the next elections and many people gave his result numbers high marks on his viability to become president. If we look at the graph, we can see that Evo and his party (MAS) got a solid 21% of the national vote. That is very impressive for an indigenous leader of the coca growers union and worth mentioning it. Nevertheless, looking at the graph a few minutes longer, we can observe that there are three parties with the same amount of votes, more or less. There is an indisputable group of leading political forces emerging from the 2002 vote. First is the MNR, second the MAS and a third political force is the NFR. Moreover, we find another significant political actor, the MIR, within a few percentage points behind.
From this we can conclude that, clearly, MAS has pulled a feat by showing such a support on the ballot box. Who would have thought that of a newcomer. But, let's not forget that MAS is within a group of three other political parties, each of which has also significant support within the population. To conclude from that, that MAS has an advantage for the next elections would be insensitive. :-)
The distribution of power in government
From the graphs above, we can discern the distribution of power which resulted from the 2002 general elections. In a manner which speaks volumes of the Bolivian democratic process, the distribution of power closely reflects the results of the elections. The parties which got the most votes are the ones who have the most representation within both chambers of Congress.
The MAS, has been, ever since 2002, the main opposition force in Congress. However, as we can see, it has not been able to make much of a mark. MAS has controlled 27 of the 130 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 8 of the 27 seats in the Senate. These numbers are not enough to exert any significant influence in Congress. MAS has therefore been largely marginalized because its political line has not coincided with that of the other players. The only alternative left to it, at least based on its actions, has been to incite protest on the streets.
The Movement Towards Socialism has therefore shown itself as one of the major political forces in Bolivian politics. What it hasn't shown is either its ability to make that leap from a strong alternative party to a strong leading party and its ability to form alliances with other forces. This last characteristic is indispensable if MAS is to get to the presidency.
The uninominal vote as a yard stick
According to the Bolivian Constitution, there are two approaches to electing representatives to the lower chamber of Congress. One is that of plurinominales and the other is that of uninominales. Deputies elected by the plurinominal method are included in the party lists. Deputies elected by the uninominal method are electec by direct vote.
The later method is interesting because, in my opinion, it provides for a representative image of the voting preferences of the electorate. Since these Deputies are elected by direct vote, one can assume this is a small poll on what is the general preference in each voting district.
Observing this graph I created from the data on the official results, we can clearly discover some geographic political preferences. For example we can see that Santa Cruz is MNR country. Personally, I was under the impression that the MIR had much support in this region. Moreover, it is also clear that the MNR has wide support in the other two eastern departamentos, Pando and Beni. We can also see the remnants of ADN in Pando. Another interesting thing to observe is what happens in La Paz. In this departamento we can find a diversity of political currents, with two parties capturing the most support. MIR has the upper hand, and here I speculate that this support is in the city of La Paz where most of the middle class lives. By contrast the MIP (Felipe Quispe) has a firm grip on the Altiplano Aymaras. What is also interesting is to see the size of that electorate. Of course we also see that Tarija, not surprisingly, is MIR country. This is due to the fact that its leader, Jaime Paz Zamora is a Tarijeno.
As for the issue at hand, from the graphic we can see that MAS has support in the departamentos of Cochabamba, Potosi, Oruro, La Paz and Sucre (in descending order). Support for MAS is stronger in Cochabamba, where it emerged as a political force and Potosi. Surprisingly, support for MAS in La Paz is only marginal. People wrongly tend to automatically attribute all the activity in the city of El Alto to Evo Morales. Now we can clearly see that while there is some common ground between the activists in El Alto and Evo, that doesn't mean that Evo enjoys wide support by Altenos. It is also worth highlighting the lack of support for MAS in the Eastern regions, Santa Cruz, Beni and Pando plus Tarija. This is the so called Media Luna (for its resemblance to a half moon) region, which is currently pushing the autonomic movement.
The emergence of Evo Morales and his indigenous political instrument, MAS, have shown us the deep changes which Bolivian politics are going through. The fact that Evo got so close to become the President of Bolivia in 2002 made most of us realize that these changes are not temporary. Nonetheless, Evo might have gotten as close as to have been included in the negotiations in Congress (where it is usually decided who will be the winner of the elections), but he didn't even come close to becoming president.
Evo Morales and his party, MAS, represent a new true left alternative to the traditional political parties, but it is far from being the instrument of the indigenous people to gain power. The significant lack of support in the Altiplano region is more than enough to show that MAS and Evo have a lot of work to do before they can even start thinking of gaining the presidency. Even the polls are suggesting he is one more candidate among the leading three. In the mean time, Evo has to learn to compromise and thus become part of main stream politics in Bolivia.