October 30, 2005

On Bolivian Elections and Institutions

MABB © ®
What a chaotic situation. The Bolivian Congress was unable to come up with a solution to the redistribution of parliamentary seats problem. The two sides (La Paz, Oruro and Potosi on the one side and Santa Cruz and Cochabamba on the other) apparently have irreconcilable differences. Although, I tend to sort of side with the Santa Cruz side. I must be the only paceno doing this at this time. But, the reason is simple. Article 88 of the Constitution says that congressional seats must be distributed by population based on the last census. The last census says that Santa Cruz and Oruro gained population, while La Paz, Potosi and Oruro lost population. This was due to massive migrations East in search for a better life. So, that's just it. Santa Cruz should get the additional four seats because it has more people living in it. It should have been simple debate in Congress and redistribute the seats according to the law.

But, nothing is as simple as it looks, or is it? I think the real reason is that La Paz (most of all) and Potosi don't want to lose their representative power in Congress. In a lower chamber with 130 seats four seats less or more is a significant gain or loss. At the same time there is the fear that with this development, Santa Cruz will become the most powerful force in Congress. Its autonomic aspirations are a real threatening shadow covering the rest of the country. This, makes the rest of the country very nervous. It doesn't help that the so called media luna region has some similar goals. An alliance between the Pando, Beni, Tarija, Sucre political factions with Santa Cruz leading them have the possibility of holding a majority in Congress.

Another reason why the two camps don't want to give in, I think, is next year's Consituent Assembly. The details for the Constituent Assembly are going to be worked out in Congress. There it will be decided who, how and how many will attend this important assembly. Who ever will have more votes in Congress will be able to, more or less, craft the assembly to their liking. I am pretty sure that Santa Cruz will fight hard to send constituents who will represent its position of autonomy right and if there are enough of them the new Constitution will be more to the liking of Santa Cruz. The same rationale is applicable to La Paz. They also want to have enough constituents to be able to shape the new document to be crated. However, Santa Cruz has a more pressing urgency to achieve significant representation in the assembly because it wants a Bolivia significantly different than the Bolivia MAS and El Alto want to create.

While this struggle is going on in Congress, the executive is doing what it can to fix a date for the next elections. So far, though, it has been pretty inept in getting what it wants. It surprises me because just three years ago the executive office was a pretty powerful branch of government. It was powerful because the president emerged from a congressional alliance, which voted for him in Congress. This action gave the president a sure and confortable majority in Congress. So much so, that to a certain extent Congress was reduced to a branch of government which served to implement the policies the president would like. However, today is another story. The presidency is so weak that it is almost being rendered obsolete.

These two problems in Congress and the Presidency bring out a point that has been circling around in my head in the last weeks. When a problem of ungovernability such as the one today comes up, wouldn't it make sense to have a mechanism to solve it? Taking other democracies as an example, it would make sense if the president finds itself unable to govern because of a congressional deadlock, he should be able to dissolve parliament and call to new elections. In the same manner, Congress should be able to put forward a vote of no confidence when it finds the President has lost the confidence of its coalition. These two mechanisms would enable to solve problems of governability like the ones we are having today.

I think I heard Tuto Quiroga making these kinds of suggestions. Although, I am not sure where I heard it anymore.

Well, for now these institutional problems will have to be put on the list and archived until there is some kind of normalcy returning to the Bolivian government. Or perhaps, they will be treated in the Constitutional Assembly. So, the problem is not solved. Tomorrow there is an all important meeting among the politicla and civic actors of this tragedy to try to arrive at an understanding. For now, it seems that there is a new proposal circling around. The proposal says to add six seats to the 130 seat lower chamber. Two would go to Cochabamba and four to Santa Cruz. But, this proposal has been already thrown out by the civic leaders of Santa Cruz.

So, once again our dead line has moved. Now we are waiting what happens this week. The Electoral Court has said that if Congress is able to pass a new article 88, it will be able, without any problem, to guarantee elections December 11 or 18. If this week the distribution issue is not resolved, the executive still has the option of the extraordinary supreme decree, which will redistribute the seats without the participation of Congress. But, as we know, this would bring other problems of confrontation between Congress and the President.

Let's see what happens tomorrow and for sure we can continue talking about the issue.