October 21, 2005

The Last and Final Test

MABB © ®
So it seems, Bolivia has come to the last and final test. While the Executive and Judicial branches of government have successfully overcome their difficulties and have passed their tests with some dexterity, that is not the case for the Legislative branch. Congress is in the middle of what could be the last and definite test for Bolivia's democratic process.

On the back of the president's assurances that he wants to carry out his mandate to see the December general elections trhough and the Constitutional Court's decision to uphold the elections and the redistribution of seats in parliament, Congress has now the task to see this redistribution carried out according to the law. However, as logic as it may seem, redistribution of seats in Congress can be a divisive issue, it has become instead an insurmountable gap which deeply divided the Congress along regional lines.

On the one side there are the Departments which stand to gain seats (Santa Cruz and Cochabamba) and on the other side are the Departments which stand to lose seats (La Paz, Oruro, Potosi). For more info on the nature of the problem please read my earlier post here.

Now it seems that the gap has broadened and there is no hope for a solution. The President has just put a proposal on the table which seeks to partially redistribute some seats by taking away seats to smaller Departments and giving it to Santa Cruz. The seats in La Paz would not be touched. Nevertheless, this proposal has been rejected by all the regional factions, with the exception of La Paz.

As the problem stands, there is no solution in sight. The Santa Cruz and Cochabamba factions rightfully ask for what the supreme law of the land mandates. That is the distribution of parliamentary seats according to population based on the latest census (2001). If the population of Bolivia has shifted towards the East, it is just logic that those people who migrated to Santa Cruz and Cochabamba are proportionally represented in Congress through their local representatives. I have not seen a logical argument coming from the La Paz, Oruro or Potosi factions explaining why they should not be losing seats if they have less population.

Actually, this looks like it is just an issue for the legislators themselves. In recent weeks, all factions have been trying to buld up support from the population to force the other side to back down. The different factions have organized demonstrations in their respective capital cities. The outcome was, at the very least, dissappointing. Not many people showed up for these demonstration. This suggests that the factions in Congress are fighting only for their jobs and not for the representativity of the people in Congress.

The December general elections are very important for the democratic process in Bolivia. If this last hurdle is overcome, it would be a significant sign for the democratic process. If it is not overcome, it would be a bitter defeat.

So much are this elections important that the world has been nervously watching and now is moving to try to prevent a delay. The United Nations has sent its special envoy to Bolivia, José Antonio Ocampo, to assess the current situation there as the political dispute threatens to delay elections scheduled for December 4.

If your are wondering what the US administration is thinking, here you can find a report (Country Strategic Plan for 2005-2009 for Bolivia) by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the leading U.S. agency assisting Bolivia with its social development and counternarcotics efforts.