October 05, 2013

The Redistribution of Power and Influence: The Bolivian Adjustment Efforts of its Legislative Seats


The logical result of the Bolivian Census 2012 fiasco was a dispute over the distribution of congressional seats, as I briefly mentioned in my prior post. Well, now it is so far.

Just to clarify, I say fiasco because the results, a preliminary version presented by Morales in January 2013 and the final version in July 2013, proved to be problematic for the government and the census itself. Morales first presented the preliminary results, given to him by the statistical institute, to the public highlighting how the country had been gaining population. By the time he presented the final and official results, the same had changed somewhat in the populations of some departments. That was the reason why in the first results Santa Cruz had been highlighted as the most populous city in Bolivia, displacing La Paz to second place for the first time in history. However, in the second results, La Paz regained its place, but Santa Cruz remained in close second.

If we go bit more back in history, the census planning phase had many problems, the most significant of them being the elimination of the "mestizo" or "mixed" category to describe ethnicity or identity.

Yesterday, Friday, October 4, the lower chamber debated and passed a first version of the bill supposed to adjust how many seats each department gets in the Bolivian Legislative Assembly. The resulting proposed bill sets the seat distribution as follows:

As is shown in the table, La Paz, Cochabamba, Oruro, Tarija and Pando get to keep their number of seats. However, Chuquisaca, Potosi and Beni lose one seat each and Santa Cruz gains three seats, namely the three seats from the losing departments.

This situation has triggered hostile reactions from the three losing departments. In fact, the civic organizations in Chuquisaca and Potosi and part of Beni have been under emergency alert and have decided to protest against the law. Chuquisaca and Potosi staged yesterday a general strike where businesses, public offices and schools were paralyzed. In addition, some deputies from the three loosing-departments entered into a hunger strike.

In addition, a small faction of indigenous deputies from each department joined the hunger strike because they demanded more special seats reserved for indigenous peoples.

The proposed law is supposed to be revised by the Senate, and if approved it would be sent to the President to be signed. The constitutional review will not be necessary because it was the Constitutional Tribunal who sent this law to the lower chamber.