January 27, 2009

Bolivia: Divided We Stand

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One only needs to take a look at this graph to see the result of last Sunday's referendum on the Oruro Constitution (approved in December 2007 in Oruro). While the result at the national level was 61.6% approval against 38.3% rejection, it became even more evident that the country is geographically divided between the YES and NO votes. The denominated media luna (the green/NO part) region voted, at times overwhelmingly, to reject the new constitution and the other Bolivia (in blue/SI) readily accepted it.

Actually, if we guide ourselves by the map, it looks as though the constitution should have been rejected. The green area is bigger than the blue. The favorable result for the SI vote was determined by the number of voters in the cities of La Paz and El Alto. For the number of voters in these two cities see my post last week. The fact that there is such a large region of the country that voted NO points to a very serious problem which the government is bound to feel, and which will be the reason why the country will continue on this path of political turmoil. In the media luna region, there is the general feeling that the Oruro Constitution was not approved, even though they recognize its success at the national level. Moreover, based on the per province referendum results, the approval of the constitution is not obvious. What is obvious is that this new social contract has been clearly rejected by these regions. Therefore, the opposition leaders demand a national "dialogue" to duscuss in which ways the government is to implements the new social contract. In the words of Santa Cruz Prefect, Ruben Costas, "...the government should not delay the implementation of autonomies, should compromise positions in the negotiations, should work towards a national accord, and [above all] not impose the new constitution". Should the government not do this, the opposition has warned, they will not to follow the new constitutional rules and continue ahead with its autonomic path.

The opposition is skeptical because the executive has repeatedly played the confusion card where it agrees to one thing and does the opposite. In addition Morales himself has shown its intention to march ahead with the implementation of the new constitution, regardless what the opposition does or says. He is preparing a set of new laws to start the process. The government's first steps will be to pass the new laws regulating the electoral process, the hydrocarbons sector, taxes, civil and penal codes, land redistribution, how to reorganize the Executive and how to implement autonomy.

For the moment, it seems the opposition has chosen to make a distinction between what the constitution actually says and how will it be interpreted and, in the end, implemented. That is one reason why the opposition, once the constitution has already become the supreme law of the land, still asks the government for consensus. They want a say in drafting all the new rules of the game. For its part, the government has expressed its intention only to negotiate one issue with the opposition, namely how to adapt the province constitutions or statutes to the new constitutional framework. This is of course too little for the opposition.

There are two fundamental questions that come to mind as a result of this outcome. Why is Bolivia so divided? and What happens now? In what follows, I intend to list, and by no exhaustive means, the issues dividing Bolivia. Also, I will attempt to recount what will be the next steps in this most interesting process.

What are the divisions?

At the general level, it can be argued that Bolivia is divided because, at the moment, there is a fierce power struggle between new vs. traditional political elites, in which the new elites are about the displace the traditional ones. This power struggle has heavy socio-economic and ethnic components. At the same time, these two groups are divided in their conception of what the country should look like. On the one hand, the traditional side sees no reason why the current legal framework, partly based on the current democratic model, as well as trade, private property, private investment, etc., should be changed. On the other side, the new elites prefer to give the state a pivotal role in all social, economic and political aspects in the country. They also want to highlight the socio-ethnic aspect. This is, more or less, a short picture at the most general level. At the more specific level there are several issues to be considered. For example:

How to implement autonomy - If the government tries to force its point of view, without, at the same time, making some concessions to the opposition, the divisions are bound to widen even more. So far, the government used a confronting rhetoric with the opposition. It repeatedly pointed out that Morales has the support of the majority. It can back that claim by citing last year's recall referendum and now the approval of its constitution. However, that is not enough for the opposition, since Morales does not enjoy overwhelming support in the media luna. That is his basic problem. He lacks legitimacy in the region. That is the major reason why the opposition will still attempt to place Morales against the wall and force some kind of agreement at the moment of passing the laws. Otherwise, the radicalization of the attitudes are bound to follow.

The new electoral code - The new rules to elect the representatives will be an important issue. The new code must specify how will the President and Vice President be elected. Who will get elected and with which margins. Most important will be the distribution of seats in Congress. This will most likely set the balance of power. The opposition want to make sure the weight is not tilted towards Morales.

Land re-distribution - The way in which the government re-possesses land and re-distributes it is also bounded to create some tensions. Now that the question of how large land in private hands should be is cleared, the pressing issue will be whose land will the government take back. Most likely the owners of these lands will make it difficult for the government to take away their land. In fact, they are already up in arms and, I am guessing, heavily investing in the opposition forces to represent them politically. Most important will be who will be able to claim some of this land from the government. These people, the landless, are also a force to reckon with. Some people from the landless movement MST have already started occupying some government lands.

The new hydrocarbons law - The government has expressed its intention to design a law re-distributing the money coming from the export of natural gas to the Western provinces. Currently, the provinces where the natural gas is recovered receive more that the other provinces. There is a compensatory percentage. The problem will be if the government decides to increase this compensation and the producing provinces feel disadvantaged by the new rules.

The Sucre's claim to be the capital city - A major issue to keep Bolivia divided is the demand Sucre makes to discuss the future of the capital of Bolivia. Originally, as Bolivia was founded, Sucre was the capital of Bolivia. In 1809 the government seat and the legislative branch were moved to La Paz. Since then, Sucre has been periodically trying to recover its status as capital city. During this last Constitutional Assembly process, the opposition encouraged Sucre's demand and thus gained one more allied. Since then, Sucre has been loud in asking a debate over this issue.

TLC with the UE - In commercial terms, the division is more or less orthodox. The government rejects a TLC from principle, and the opposition supports Bolivia's engagement in the globalization process. This is more prone to touch the private industry sector and middle sized export firms.

What is to come?

On February 20, the CNE will present the final report on the January 25 referendum. Congress will approve it and will present it to the President. The President then signs it into law. Once this happens, Congress has 60 days to pass a provisional electoral code. This law will be the legal framework for the general election of December 6, 2009. The President, the Vice President and all members of Congress will be elected on this date. Once the new "National Plurinational Assembly" (that is the name) is convened, it has to sanction several laws taking no longer than 180 days. These laws are: laws regulating the new electoral agency, the Judicial branch, the Constitutional Tribunal, as well as drafting the new electoral code and the framework regulating the decentralization and autonomic processes.

My take is that 2009 will be plagued by electoral campaigns and the fight in Congress to pass those new laws. And of course, more marches, demonstrations and strikes. Why not!

January 25, 2009

Preliminary Results

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Update 1:

The results are clear, one day after the referendum. According to recounts, table by table, the Oruro Constitution has won approval by the electorate. The results are:

58.7% approve

41.3% reject

The press is reporting a 90% level of participation. Historical indeed!

The CNE said the official results will be available on February 20.

Preliminary results are starting to show the Oruro Constitution has won approval by 54% against 46%. The departments that approved the constitution were: La Paz (77%), Cochabamba (62%), Potosi (73%), and Oruro (73%). The departments that rejected the new constitution were: Santa Cruz (68%), Tarija (56%), Pando (57%), and Beni (68%). The department of Chuquisaca is undecided with 50-50.

The result is: 54% for SI and 46% for NO.

When we take a look at the results per capital of department, the result would be a defeat for the new constitution. The results are as follow: La Paz (61%), Potosi (57%), Oruro (64%) and El Alto (82%) have voted to approve the new constitution. Santa Cruz (73%), Cochabamba (58%), Tarija (62%), Cobija (63%), Trinidad (66%), and Sucre (71%), voted to reject the new constitution.

That would result in: 47% for the SI and 53% for the NO.

The difference make the vote in Cochabamba and Sucre. The results in Sucre, at the departmental level are not that clear. There is still room for the department to turn into a NO department. The full results are not in yet. In Cochabamba, it was to be expected that the city was going to vote NO and the rural areas were going to vote SI. It looks like the rural areas are winning, so far.

On the question about the size of large private land, it looks like Bolivians in general want to limit that size to 5000 hectares.

Reports below:

Red Erbol, Fides, La Razon, Unitel.

January 24, 2009

Everything Ready for Tomorrow's Referendum

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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 PadrĂ³n 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

January 15, 2009

HRW Report: Bolivia

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FYI, below you find the first paragraph on Bolivia of the Human Rights Watch Report 2009.

Bolivia’s deep political, ethnic, and regional divisions and the fragility of its democratic institutions contribute to a precarious human rights situation. Almost two thirds of the population lives below the national poverty line, and over a third— mostly indigenous peoples—lives in extreme poverty.

Since his landslide electoral victory in December 2005, President Evo Morales has sought to introduce a new constitution and other far-reaching reforms. The reform process has contributed to dramatic political polarization within the country, which has led to numerous episodes of political violence. The government’s supporters and its opponents, as well as the police and military, have been accused of killings during violent clashes between rival demonstrators. Investigations into these unlawful killings are often politicized and generally fail to establish criminal responsibility. Despite judicial rulings that civilian courts should have jurisdiction, military courts usually investigate alleged abuses by army troops, further contributing to impunity.

Although Bolivia enjoys diverse media and a vibrant public debate, political polarization has brought violent attacks on journalists and media outlets by both pro-government and opposition demonstrators.

January 01, 2009

The Referendum in January and the Government's Version

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The government's office of Public Administration Observatory (OGP), has released this survey on oncoming referendum to approve the new constitution (January 25). Much depends on the results of this referendum. That is why the government is betting the whole house on it. As you can see, the government predicts an overwhelming victory. To the questions Will you vote? the government predicts that 85% of the people will go voting. To the question Will you support the new constitution?, the government is predicting 64% support, nationally.

For more detailed information on how each region comes out, take a look at the report. What surprised me is that the numbers for the "NO" vote in regions such as Santa Cruz, Sucre and Tarija are rather weak. I am attributing this to the fact that the survey comes from the government. However, I would like to see more surveys done.

January will be another interesting month.