November 18, 2006

In the Process to a Dominant Party System

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Yesterday, Friday, November 18, the Constituent Assembly (CA) approved article 71 of the internal regulations document. It says that the CA will approve all reforms to the constitution by absolute majority. That means it would require 128 of 255 votes for the approval of any reform. The exception is that in the end, the whole constitution would have to be approved by 2/3 majority and there is the option of "observing" 3 issues to be reconsidered and then voted with 2/3 majority. The decision was taken to use MAS' majority to approve this controversial measure, in light of the inability to reconcile differences with the opposition.

The graph above shows us the distribution of power within the CA. In it you can see MAS enjoys an ample majority of 137 seats or votes. Comfortably sufficient, in the case of absolute majority, to write the constitution itself. AP reports "LA PAZ, Bolivia - Supporters of leftist President Evo Morales won a key vote at an assembly to rewrite Bolivia's constitution, allowing them to draft populist reforms without input from opposition parties. The final draft of a new constitution, however, must still be approved by two-thirds of the body. In a heated session Friday at the constitutional assembly, delegates from Morales' Movement Toward Socialism party, or MAS, passed a motion requiring the assembly's decisions to be made by a simple majority vote. The party controls 137 of the assembly's 235 seats." At the same time, Silvia Lazarte, President of the CA, said to La Razon: "It is that way brothers, when decisions have to be made, they have to be made."

The opposition, which is in favor of the 2/3 variant of voting, as it was to be expected, is crying out loud, foul! Its numbers, in the present situation, have swelled to 113 seats with 14 political forces. There are strong protests to what they call, the imposition of MAS' will and the irruption of the central government. Already former president candidate for National Unity, Samuel Doria Medina, has started a hunger strike in various locations to protest this decision. The Santa Cruz Civic Committee has expressed its concern and has called next week to a asamblea de la crucenidad (Santa Cruz assembly) to determine in which way will it respond. Other parties and organizations will analyse the problem in their respective headquarters and will respond accordingly. There is a general feeling among opposition forces that their vote does not count and therefore their presence is not necessary in the assembly.

Adding fuel to the fire are the various indigenous and MAS supporter groups already mobilized to "control" the decisions of the CA in Sucre and the groups preparing to go give support to the MAS people in Santa Cruz and sorrounding areas. That is all at the request of the government.

The tensions, as is often in Bolivia, have risen again from one day to the next. The potential for confrontation between governmental forces and opposition is and will be in the next weeks, very high.

On the personal side, I am tending to classify the MAS government as a "Dominant Party System". I've looked it up and found the following definition in Wikipedia (yes, it is possible to find useful things in it):

A dominant-party system, or one party dominant system, is a party system where only one political party can realistically become the government, by itself or in a coalition government. Under what has been referred to as "electoralism" or "soft authoritarianism", opposition parties are legally allowed to operate, but are considered too weak or ineffective to seriously take power. In contrast to single-party systems, which tend to be authoritarian, dominant-party systems can occur within a context of a democratic system. Dominant-party systems have been criticized because corruption and insensitivity to public demands tend to arise for lack of an effective opposition.

A further distinction from a single-party system is that under the latter, other parties cannot compete to become the government because they are banned. Dominant-party systems exist only in states where other political parties are tolerated, but do not receive enough votes to have a realistic chance of winning. However, in some dominant-party systems, opposition parties are subject to varying degrees of official harassment and most often deal with rules and electoral systems (such as gerrymandering of electoral districts) designed to put them at a disadvantage or in some cases outright electoral fraud.

On the other hand, some dominant-party system occur in countries that are widely seen, both by their citizens and outside observers, to be textbook examples of democracy. The reasons why a dominant-party system may form in such a country are often debated: Supporters of the dominant party tend to argue that their party is simply doing a good job in government and the opposition continuously proposes unrealistic or unpopular changes, while supporters of the opposition tend to argue that the electoral system disfavors them (for example because it is based on the principle of first past the post), or that the dominant party receives a disproportionate amount of funding from various sources and is therefore able to mount more persuasive campaigns.

This definition seems to be fitting well to picture where, I think, MAS is heading to. Were the absolute majority vote mode of approval accepted and used, MAS would have all the advantages to approve a constitution without having to talk once with the opposition and compromise in any issue.