August 24, 2005

Possible Complications in the Bolivian Electoral Process

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Several complications might stall or even delay general elections in Bolivia. These difficulties have to do with a process of redistribution of legislative seats in favor of Santa Cruz; the legislative's attempts to reform the Electoral Code; and the possible unconstitutionality of the elections themselves.

The first potential problem that the coming general elections can encounter is a Constitutional Court (CC) ruling in favor of a demand presented by the congressional Santa Cruz faction. This ruling is most likely to favor those demands for the redistribution of seats in Congress, according to current population numbers, which is what the Constitution establishes. According to the 2001 census, Santa Cruz gained population and as such is due an increase in the number of seats assigned by law. This increase would come on the back of a respective decrease of legislative seats for departments like La Paz and Potosi.

As a result, the legislative is currently considering three options to deal with the possible ruling. The first option is to do what the Constitutional Court says and do it promptly. This option though, according to some parliamentarians, would delay the elections, most likely for three months. The second option is to transfer the redistribution to be carried out in next year's Constitutional Assembly. This option, of course, was the reason why the Santa Cruz faction took the case to the CC in the first place. The third option was advanced by a congressmen from MAS and will most likely be put up for debate if the ruling is in favor of Santa Cruz. The option says to give a base of 10 deputies to each department, no matter how small the department is. That would make 90 seats, and the rest can be distributed by population. The main point being that as a result of this ruling, the general elections on December 4th could end up being delayed by three months.

Another problem the coming elections can encounter is the much needed reforms to the electoral code. The Deputies Chamber has sent to the Senate an approved set of reforms to the code. The Senate has surprisingly rejected the reforms and thus sent the bill back to the lower chamber for further deliberation. The main reasons the Senate sent back the bill were because it did not like the campaign finance reforms the lower chamber made. These reforms lower the amount of money each party would get to finance its campaign and transfers the administration of the funds to the Electoral Court.

The problem is not the campaign finance reforms, but another set of reforms, which as a result are being delayed. The Electoral Court has been asking expediency on extending the deadline for the registration of candidates to September 5. The current deadline is August 26. This reform is necessary to give more time to civic organizations wanting to take part in the elections. The objective here is to give more legitimacy to the electoral process. If this reform is not passed, it certainly won't be the end of the world, but it'll make a lot of people angry and frustrated with the electoral process. Many will problably be crying foul.

Lastly, Senator Ana María Flores (NFR) and congressmen Gonzalo Barrientos (MNR) want to start a process in the CC against the December 4th elections. Flores and Barrientos argue that the general elections were unconstitutionally advanced. This process threatens to stop the electoral process alltoghether, if it is successful.

As I have been saying on my previous posts, it looks like the electoral process is advancing. However, there are potential difficulties which could end up disturbing, delaying or stopping the December elections. Well, nobody said it would be easy. Much less it should be expected this would be free of problems in a country like Bolivia.

Update: One of the problems seems to be solved. The Senate yesterday made a 180 degree turn and approved the reforms to the Electoral Code, which the prior day it had rejected. Now, a series of reforms would come into effect, after the lower chamber sends the bill to President Rodriguez and he signs it. The signing of the bill is very likely to happen today Friday 26, because of the deadline to register candidates.

The reforms include, the extension of the deadline for the registration of parties' lists of candidates. Apparently, no party has a list ready yet. Funds destined to the financing of political campaigns will be reduced 50% and administered by the Electoral Court. Also, the period allowed for political propaganda is extended to 60 days from 30. All alliances between political parties and citizens organizations are free to pick from between 30% to 50% the female participation quota. And lastly, it was determined to use 2002 districting, which is based on the 1992 census.

This last point is potentially a danger for the elections because the Santa Cruz faction in Congress is on the verge of winning a favorable veredict from the Constitutional Court which deems this last reform as unconstitutional. If this were to happen, the elections on December 4th would be in serious question.

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