January 24, 2009

Everything Ready for Tomorrow's Referendum

MABB © ®

Tomorrow, Bolivia will once again vote on a referendum. The decisions to be made are two. First, citizens have to decide whether article 398 of the new constitution should include, in its final sentence, 10,000 (24 710 acres) or 5,000 hectares (12 355 acres). The article pretends to define how large "productive" private property should be. Productive here, is defined as land that has a social function. I am deducing, from prior comments, that social function refers to land that produces sugar to supply the internal market, for example.
Second, voters must approve or disapprove the new constitution, which was written by the Constituent Assembly, agreed upon with the Prefects and amended by the Special Committee on "Concertation" in Congress.

The two questions will be approved when the absolute majority of Bolivians vote for the "YES" option. Absolute majority in Bolivia means 50 per cent of the valid votes plus one per cent (50 + 1). The document will be completed in Congress by including the winning paragraph in the private property question. Then it will be sent to the President to be signed.

In the case the "NO" option wins, the current constitution will remain in force.

From this point on, it all comes down to the number of voters who can vote. I took this table from the official National Electora Court (CNE) report on the registry, the National Voters Registry or Padrón Nacional Electoral. The CNE audited the registry because of fraud allegations and published the report on its website.

As you can see, 3.89 million Bolivians are registered and ready to vote tomorrow. To get a better idea, however, one has to divide this table in regions. The one region is the denominated Half Moon or Media Luna, which includes Santa Cruz, Tarija, Pando, Beni and now Sucre. This region is known as the opposition and thus believed to vote for the NO option. According to the table, the number of voters in this region make up 1.418 million voters. That would represent, approximately, 36 per cent of the total electorate. The other region, the one believed to support (overwhelmingly) the government, make up 2.473 voters, which represent around 64 per cent of the total voters.

Assuming these two regions vote strictly by their preferences, it is an easy win for the government. That is almost exactly what the government predicted in its latest survey made public (see my post on January 1, 2009). Now, I am guessing it will not be that easy for the government because of the fact that the Oruro constitution has many detractors in the YES regions as well. And, of course, the opposite hapens in the NO regions.

According to this simple observation, then, the new constitution should be approved with out problems. Again, assuming the overwhelming support in the respective regions stays constant, as many assume it will.

So far, there are no indicators which tell us how successful have been the campaigns of the two groups. All we know, from observation, is that both sides have carried out ferocious campaigns which have reached deep into the country. Also, both sides have spent a lot of money on radio, television and newspaper ads and many campaigns have even been brought to the internet.

As I stand here, I have to admit, I don't have a clear idea of how will the results come out. My observation says the government will win the approval of its constitution, but my feeling is that the opposition has done a very good job in bringing its message out. At this point, it is very hard to say with clarity who will win. All we know with certainty is that this referendum will be the most "observed" electoral exercise in Bolivia's history. It will have around two hundred international observers and more national observers going from place to place, table to table to see the process develops smoothly.

A bit of history:
  • On March 6, 2006 - Ley Especial a la Convocatoria de la Asamblea Constituyente No. 3364
  • On July 2, 2006 - Elections of 266 members of the Constitutional Assembly
  • On August 6, 2006 - The Constitutional Assembly started work
  • On December 14, 2007 - The work of the Constitutional Assembly ended
  • On December 9, 2007 - The new constitution was approved in Oruro (that is why this constitution is known as the Oruro constitution)
  • On October 21, 2008 - Congress finished the "adjustments" to the Oruro constitution text. Interpretative Law No. 3941 provided the legal framework for these adjustments
There were three referedums in recent history
  1. July 2004 - It was about Bolivia's hydrocarbons policy
  2. July 2006 - About the inclusion of the autonomy issue in the new constitution
  3. August 2008 - Presidential recall referendum