June 14, 2008

The Recall Referendum

MABB © ®

While the recall referendum might have been a surprising and politically calculated move by one side of the opposition to prevent the government in its efforts to consolidate its power, it might end up helping the central government anyway.

The recall referendum, which is scheduled to take place on August 10 and is when the president, vicepresident and prefects will submit themselves to be recalled from their offices, was signed into law May 12, 2008. This was possible because the bill, which was introduced by Morales in December 2007, was approved by the opposition controlled Senate by surprise. Right after the vote, some senators argued that they approved the bill to prevent the government to pass its constitution in a special session, where the opposition was supposed to be left out.

The plebiscite stipulates that for any incumbent to be recalled, the vote against them must be higher than what they received in the last elections. In that manner, for example, for Morales to be recalled, at least, 54% of the people have to vote to remove him from power. That is the case for each of the prefects as well. These are very general conditions for Morales because his approval rating is well above 54%.

The danger is on the prefects of the opposition. Some of which, for example the prefects of La Paz, Pando and Cochabamba, are not sure they will be able to stand the test.

As the graph above shows, these prefects are in particular trouble. Jose Luis Paredes, prefect of La Paz, has to fight for his political survival in the most hostile territory for a member of the opposition. The department of La Paz is a stronghold of MAS. In particular, the city of El Alto along with the rural areas, are the places where the most staunch MAS supporters live. The department of Cochabamba, in particular, the Chapare region, is where the bases of MAS are found. Although, Manfred Reyes Villa, will argue that during his tenure, over 90% of the investment plan was executed. Finally, Pando prefect Leopoldo Fernandez, has a credibility and trust problem with the indigenous peoples from his department.

I differ with the inclusion of Mario Cossio in this graph, because I think Tarija is entirely in the opposition and as thus it will support Cossio.

The government, on its part, is already rubbing its hands and busy campaigning for what they call, the "si" vote. The "yes" vote is for Morales to continue in office. For example, it has implemented a "voluntary" but controlled, contribution from salaries to the MAS campaign. The MAS parliamentarians, Senators and Deputies, are "voluntary contributing" 50% of their salaries (BOB 10,500, $US 1,453). From the bureaucratic posts the party is expecting from 10% (from lower posts) to 50% (from higher posts). The latter are also "voluntary", but reports say that these "contributions" are controlled with lists. They are not direct deductions from the paychecks, as is the case in parliament. The party calls these, "political investment".

In addition, the government has suspended the negotiations with the opposition, destined to find a way out of this crisis, until after the recall fererendum. Apparently, the government doesn't see the need to talk with the opposition anymore until the referendum is carried out.

In itself, the referendum is being questioned by the two sides. The government, on the one side, questions the partiality of the departmental braches of the electoral court. In question are the departmental electoral courts of Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni, and Tarija. These are the courts which are overseeing the referendums on autonomic statutes. On the other side, the opposition forces see the newly appointed president of the National Electoral Court (CNE), Mr. Exeni, as partial with the government. The Cochabamba prefect, Reyes Villa, has sent a letter to Exeni expressing his opinion that while Exeni is president of the CNE, there will not be fair elections.

All these while some other members of the opposition are questioning the value of the referendum at all. The argument is that after the referendum, things will be the same way they are now. There will not be any changes.

For now, the referendum is on schedule, but for how long?