October 17, 2011

The Judicial Elections in Bolivia

MABB © ®
Yesterday, Sunday, October 16, 2011, Bolivia went yet again to the ballot box. This time they elected judges for the highest courts. It was an experimental election, because it was the first time in the region (pls correct me if I am wrong) that judges were elected by popular vote. They usually are appointed by, either the executive or the legislative branches.

Today, Monday, one day later, the headlines are catching the interest of many. In almost every newspaper the headline reads: The Spoiled Vote Marks the First Defeat of Morales.

Indeed, the exit polls are predicting a significant defeat for the Morales government. El Diario, reports (sorry this is not a permalink) the defeat is 60% to 38%, with the former representing the spoiled and blank votes and the latter being the valid votes. This marks a difference of 22%. Pagina 7, however makes a more differentiated report and highlights also exit poll results as: Spoiled 45,7%, blank 16,7%, and valid 37,6%.

This is important because, if we consider Evo Morales has won elections in 2005 with a 54%, in 2009 with 64%, in a 2008 referendum with 67% and another referendum to approve the new Constitution with 62%, the defeat yesterday marks a significant event. The defeat might mean that the support for his government is dwindling.

But, why would that be? There are many people who attribute this result to two things. The first thing points us to the most recent conflict between indigenous groups against the construction of a highway though what they consider a protected by law and their territory. This conflict is know as the TIPNIS conflict. The most recent and most relevant event was a September 25, 2011, police repression against the march of these indigenous groups to La Paz to protest against the plans of the government. There were even some casualties. The second problem conducing to this result is the disbelief that elected judges are a better form of justice. The argument is, while they might have legitimacy because they are elected directly, the politization of the justice is a serious concern. In particular, it is widely believed now that Morales is trying to consolidate its control of the state and power by positioning people close to his party into high judicial posts. An additional, more subtil, motive is the highly questionable manner in which the government finances this elections. For example, Erbol reported that several people who work on ministries and other governmental agencies and companies are obligated to give a "voluntary" contribution for those puroposes. That is, in one ministry it is said people are ordered to give 500 bolivianos (bs). In other ministry, there is a scale where people contribute with 100 bs., 350 bs., to 600 bs., and the higher officials with 10% of their salary, which can be around 1300 bs. Read here. In addition, they are obligated to attend marches in support of the government. Some people are even transported accross departments. Read here and here. So much for voluntary support!

As for the elections, it was reported that there were various irregularities but nothing serious. Some problems were that some candidates were still campaigning, even though they were prohibited from doing so. There were even reports that some brochures were inserted in the bibles in some churches.

In the lighter side of the event, there was a campaign (to which I pointed in a previous post) to show how to spoil the vore. People were very creative. Here are some links: La Razon,