September 23, 2014

Elections 2014: This is How Bolivians Will Vote

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If you have been following these posts on the October 2014 Bolivian general elections, you probably already know Bolivia has a proportional representation (MMP) and multi-party system, and as such five political parties are participating in this year's elections. Surely, you also know that aside from the current government's party MAS, other four alliances will be seeking support. These are: Unidad Democratica, Movimiento sin Miedo, Partido Verde and Partido Democrata Cristiano. At this point, I kindly refer you to the other posts if you want to know more about the parties and candidates. I have enough information and links on them through out the posts. You just have to look for Elections 2014 on the post headlines.

This post is about how exactly Bolivians will be voting. First of all, it is a general election and that means not only the President and Vice president will be elected but also the members of the Plurinational Assembly (Senate and Deputies Chamber). While the Senate members will be included in the party lists (I assume they are closed), the lower chamber members will be elected through a mixed-member system. That is, half of the seats will be reserved for members elected in single districts and the other half will be elected through lists as well. Below you can see the actual ballot.


The ballot is divided in five columns where each of the parties will be represented and two rows, of which the above row features the photos of the presidential candidates and the row below features the photos of the local district candidates for the lower chamber.

In practical terms, this means that a person will have to make two marks, one on the above row and one on the lower row. By making a cross in one of the squares under each presidential candidate, the voter will be electing the President, yes, but also the Vice president, the senators and the deputies in the department's list. However, the voter has more than one option to make their crosses. One option is (that is the preferred option in MAS) to make the cross in the same column. That means, the voter is electing all the people listed in the party list in his or her department and the deputy in his district. That would be an optimal vote for a party.

The other option, of course, is to cross the vote. That is, a voter makes a cross under the name of a presidential candidate (thus electing the people I mentioned above), but makes a cross in the box under the name of a district candidate belonging to another party. Bolivians call this a crossed vote or punishment vote. There are two reasons to make use of this option. One, the voter will have provided for a balance between the executive and the lower chamber by spreading his or her support. This includes a flexibility between the ideological preference and the local and more immediate interests. In addition, in the eyes of the MAS and its supporters, who expect the support of all indigenous peoples, this option is the worst outcome; so much that in some areas of the country the local MAS organization has threatened to bodily punish he or she who votes in this way. Many indigenous people are not satisfied with the work Morales and the MAS are doing and, even though they still support Morales, they want to punish it by splitting their vote.

The other obvious options would be to mark the vote in an invalid manner or to leave the ballot blank.

The real threat for the Morales government has really been the punishment vote and not the emergence of a real opposition alternative. The latter is more or less well controlled, but the punishment vote is not. Many local indigenous groups have complained the MAS authorities have not listened to their needs and wishes because they have forced the election of some other candidates instead of the locally elected person. That is the reason why not few local MAS leaders have threatened to punish those who split their vote. This unhappiness has been slowly eroding the support for the MAS. The interesting question is how much of an erosion has occurred and how much of an impact will that have on the support for Morales. Although, when one takes a look at the polls, it is evident that Morales does not have to worry too much.


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