October 22, 2005

New Crisis Looming

MABB © ®
Here is an attempt to briefly explain what the current problem is in Bolivia. This is to try to answer many emails I recieved asking: What's going on in Bolivia?

Where it stands

There is a dangerous potential crisis developing in Bolivia at present time. The fear, not just in Bolivia but also in the world, is that the upcoming general elections on December 4 will be delayed or even postponed for a later time. The consequences cannot be seen nor can be foretold. However, there is a real threat that the ongoing 20 year old democratic process could be backtracked or even (worst case scenario) reversed.

The actors

The principal actors in this developing crisis are the regional congressional factions in the Bolivian Congress from the departments of La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Potosi and Oruro. These groups are cross-party semi-alliances based solely on the regional origin of each Deputy. Secondary actors are the Constitutional Court of Bolivia and the Executive office of the President.

The problem at hand

The problem at hand is the redistribution of congressional seats in Congress. According to the Bolivian Constitution, the seats have to be redistributed periodically based on the latest census. The current redistribution was done based on the 1991 census, however, there was a census carried out in 2001, which is the latest one. 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 La Paz, Oruro and Potosi. The factions of La Paz, Oruro and Potosi are adamant not to cede these seats. In fact, they tried to pass a resolution to postpone the redistribution of seats until after the December elections and the oncoming Constitutional Assembly.

The Santa Cruz faction, equally determined to get those additional seats, filed a suit to the Constitutional Court asking them to rule on the case. The court, after examining the case, ruled (end of September) in favor of the Santa Cruz faction. This decision ordered Congress to redistribute the seats in the Deputies' Chamber in favor of Santa Cruz.

But, the decision of the Constitutional Court (the highest in the land) was not good enough for the losing factions (La Paz, Potosi and Oruro). They refuse to give up their seats and currently are engaged in a stalemate with an equally intransigent Santa Cruz faction to resolve the issue of seat redistribution for the December 4 elections.

This standstill, if it continues for more than a week, can mean the elections will have to be delayed or postponed.

Possible solutions

There were more than eight proposals which aimed to solve the redistribution problem. You can read them here in this La Razón article. The proposal made by the President Rodriguez is the one most talked about because initially it was rejected and now it may become law via a special Supreme Decree. This proposal adds two seats in favor of Santa Cruz and takes away one seat from Potosi and Oruro.


There is no official deadline. The Electoral Court, which is the agency in charge of the elections, has stopped giving tentative dates. The Congress has stopped any debate until next Tuesday. The only branch putting pressure on the legislative is the Executive office, which has said that if Congress does not act promptly to give certainty for the elections, it may issue a special Supreme Decree making its proposal legal and executable. This would be done, solely to rescue the December 4 elections.

More on the topic, from my fingertips here, here and here.