September 23, 2014

Elections 2014: Where is the Political Campaign?

MABB ©

For those who have been following this blog for some time, you know I have followed closely (more or less) every Bolivian electoral process since 2003. For those who want proof, please check the archives. In any case, I have followed those processes, and not only the general elections but also the municipal ones. So, it is sort of strange for me to observe the current electoral process (using different sources such as twitter, youtube, facebook as well as TV, newspapers and online radio) and not see the same activity as in previous elections. In fact, it is rare to read the headlines of online newspapers and not see the front pages full of spicy commentaries and suggestive headlines of what the one candidate has said about the other candidate. When looking at the newspapers, it seems as though the elections were still far away, when in fact Bolivians will be voting on October 12.

To give you an idea, I am borrowing two images from the Bolivian Institute of International Commerce (IBCE, Instituto Bolivian de Comercio Exterior). This institution compiles, every day, the front pages and the most important news of some of the most important newspapers in Bolivia, i.e. those which have the most circulation. Please click on the images to enlarge them if you will.



Similarly, if you go to twitter or facebook and try to follow the political campaign there, you will come out short, compared to previous elections. While I have to say that the level of activity in twitter is significantly higher than in the newspapers, there seems to be no exchange of opinions and seems (to me) one sided. By that I mean, everyone speaks of themselves and what they do or are doing. This is specially true for twitter. A short search on "Bolivia" and "elecciones" will quickly set you up to follow most news outlets, including the online newspapers I talked about above and just about every journalist in Bolivia. You can also follow many independent organizations and people who have set up accounts to share information on the electoral process. You will find many people from the opposition as well as the candidates themselves. Also, you can find many government ministries, agencies and other entities as well as government officials such as assembly members, ministers, and so on. However, it is notorious that every one is careful not to criticize too much the other side.

Facebook is also another source where the campaign is in full swing. Though, a bit more difficult (at least for me) to find reliable and interesting information. What I have been able to find is the facebook sites of the participating parties and (interesting enough) the local chapters of many of these parties. Through the latter one can get a bit of an image of what is going on at the local level, yet one should not expect too much. However, for the most part, I have unfortunately found many pages and people who create senseless and uncritical posts and images that really say nothing other than show the frustration with the political situation, on the one side, and the blind compromiso with the change, on the other side. Such posts and images are plenty in facebook.

The two places where one can find more traditional information, i.e. campaign spots and so on and therefore the exchange or debate, are on television and radio. That is because the law provides for the campaign spots to all the parties participating. However, on the one side there is the government media apparatus, which includes an extensive radio network and a smaller but equally significant television network. This network of course has a clear bias towards the MAS and Morales, although the media here are also obligated to run spots from the opposition. On the other side, are the private and non-governmental media. Notice, I am avoiding the word independent and critical here because at this point in time I doubt there is a truly independent news outlet in the country. I say this, at the risk of being unfair to the very few that really are independent. Sorry! These media however has been reporting on the campaign and has even been trying to organize debates between candidates. Of course, these debates have to take place without the presence of Morales because he does not see the need to debate.

I guess the problem I have is that I was used to observe a much more in-your-face style electoral campaign process. The newspapers were busy filling their front pages with what candidate X and candidate Y had said and done. This newspaper was busy digging up the secrets of this candidate and this other newspaper or radio was busy digging up the secrets of the other candidate. There was an active exchange of positions (given not always constructive) among the candidates through the television and radio outlets. Yes, it was not nice and some will argue it was even negative for democracy, but the information was circulating and the citizens were able to consume this information to make up their minds. That was the famous Dahlian precondition to free access to information. I like to think that Dahl did think that citizens were able to distinguish between rubbish and good information. This is based on the premise of a well informed citizens makes better political decisions. That is why I am missing the processes before, because I consider it is better to have information and opinions exchange (even if a part of it is rubbish) than having less information circulating. Lets remember that less must not necessarily mean better.



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