October 06, 2006

A Picture of the Bolivian Voter: Part II

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In January this year I posted a small article on the Bolivian voter aimed at shedding some light on his and her characteristic preferences. This time around I want to continue with this effort in part two and take a look at the last two elections in 2005 and 2006.

Nine months into Morales' presidency, and three months into the new Constitutional Assembly's work, we have a dramatic picture of the average voter. The graphic on the left depicts the electoral geography emerging from the last national electoral exercise and sheds light on the characteristics in the Bolivian electoral landscape. As you can very well see, the graph is divided in roughly two colors, blue and red. The blue part represents the western region of El Altiplano and the support for Evo Morales and MAS. The red part covers the Eastern part of the country whre the opposition is entrenched, led by Tuto Quiroga's Podemos. This is the picture that emerged from the December 2005 general election results. (more here) The results were an overwhelming and hystorical win for Morales and his party with 54% of the votes.

The results of this win represented around 90% renewal in Congress and the government. In congress there were left only 17 congressmen who were part of the prior legislature. This meant renewal, as well as, less experience in Congress and government. Because the majority of the elected officials did not have a prior political career, the overall experience in conducting the business of the country would be limited (in some cases seriously limited). But, the most obvious outcome visible from the graph on the left is that Bolivia emerged polarized from this elections. There are two regions in conflict, the West, with MAS and Morales, in charge of the central government and with a vision of how Bolivia should go forward. Although, this vision is only known to the insiders, as of yet. The East, with its own vision about Bolivia, its autonomous aspirations and progressive ideals, led by civic activists in the city of Santa Cruz and allied with the main opposition party, Podemos.

In the June 2006 Constituent Assembly and Autonomic Referendum elections, again, it could be observed the division along geographical regions of Bolivia. The CNE recently published the official results of the June 2006 elections. In it we find three graphs which confirm what has happened to the electorate in general in Bolivia. The graphs below show the results of the elections for Constituent Assembly members per municipality and territory.

In essence, we can see that the people from the West (the mountain region) and some people in the East have voted for MAS, thus giving this party the majority, albeit not absolute, in the assembly. From the graph we can see that Tarija, a department always aligned with the opposition, is in its territorial entirety blue, with a notable exception of the urban center. We can further see that large regions of the Eastern departments, such as Santa Cruz, are blue. This is a result surely not expected if one relies only on the media to follow the problem. The media tends to depict the department of Santa Cruz as the opposition, while it is clear from this graph that the picture is much more complex. In fact, looking at this graph, it would seem that the opposition lost support from 2005. The red region seems to be smaller and more concentrated to the East. These graphs stand in contrast with the graph from the elections in 2005.

However, if we take a look at another graph from the report, we can see that the support for autonomy is larger than the support for political parties. On the issue of autonomy, we go back, and fit almost perfectly, to the 2005 election results above. In this graph the green part shows the support for autonomy and the yellow shows the voters who do not support regional autonomy. I think the difference is that the rural inhabitants in the South of Santa Cruz department and large parts of rural Tarija and Sucre want autonomy because they see it as a solution to the marginalization they had to put up with since the central government is in La Paz. With autonomy, they would have more to say about their own place of living. However, this does not mean that they do not support MAS. Instead, I think they are MAS supporters but they do not brake their relations with the opposition because through it they could also win.

In summary, the Bolivian voter seems to support Evo Morales and his party, as shown in 2005 with the 54% result. However, there are issues in which he or she is not in line with Morales. So, this support is not blind, but rather issue driven. Also, it is evident that the Bolivian electorate is geographically and politically split along a West-East line. The reasons for this split are the different visions on how Bolivia should look like after the new constitution is written. Additionally, the issue of economic incentives from the natural resources is a powerful one. It should have a large influence on the decisions made in the assembly process. The challenge remains for the political parties to try to gain as much support as possible.