September 08, 2014

Manipulation of Elections or Mere Coincidence?

MABB ©

This is how Evo Morales COULD be manipulating elections. The first sentence has an emphasis on could because I am not sure whether what I am going to describe is an attempt by the Morales government to manipulate the outcome of the October elections or if it is just plane coincidence or merely the working pace of Bolivian bureaucracy (including justice). Certainly, the opposition strongly suspects the first, but the government must also be given the benefit of the doubt, or not?

In the following paragraphs, after presenting the facts which are relevant for the post, I will state some questions expressing the doubt or doubts I have regarding the government's actions.

The Facts

The first set of facts to consider are about the electoral tribunal - the agency in charge of the organization and regulation of the electoral process - which has issued a set of rules that affect the political campaign process. Based on laws number 26 and 18 (Electoral law and Law on the Electoral Organ respectively), passed by the National Assembly, the tribunal has issued resolutions N. 229/2012 and 347/2014, which regulate the electoral process and, particularly, the political campaign process.

The 2012 resolution mandates the electoral campaigns would be allowed to begin 90 days before election day and end 72 hours before. Further, all mass media organizations wanting to take part in the elections process would have to register with the tribunal, providing the personal information of a responsible person, aside from information on the media itself. In addition, political parties that wanted to make use of mass media could do so within 30 days and the 72 hours before election day. Moreover, each political organization has to present a "Media Plan" to the tribunal 24 hours before it engages in mass media campaign. In that plan, the political parties have to report with much detail when, where and how will they issue their media campaign. Also, in the regulation it is clearly stated that every political organization or political party is responsible for the content of their spots. The state media apparatus is to offer free of charge broadcasting of political campaign for all political organizations. This will begin 20 days before election day. The consequences in light of violations of this rules are harsh. For the political organizations, for the most part, are fines, but for the mass media the violation of a rule means fines and the exclusion from the process for the next two elections.

In addition, the 2014 resolution adds more rules to the process. Important to highlight for this post is that no media organization could broadcast between 90 and 30 days before election day the images or voices of any candidate. Also, during the whole electoral process, media are prohibited to broadcast the national symbols and colors. This last prohibition is also applicable for the political parties.

The second set of facts to consider have to do with the justice system. In the last months, there have been reports on several cases the government, through several district attorney offices, has brought against several opposition candidates. For example, the case against the mother of MSM's vice president candidate Adriana Gil. In the city of Santa Cruz, Gil's mother was placed under preventive confinement (as is usual in Bolivian justice) against corruption charges. Another recent example is the also preventive detention of Cochabamba MSM Senatorial candidate Mario Orellana, who was charged with falsifying papers. While Orellana is already out, the campaign had to be stopped because he was in jail.

On the other hand, the tribunal is also 'considering' a fine against Minister of Productive Development, Teresa Morales because the UD complained she was braking the rules by engaging in political campaign during office hours (which she cannot do). In addition, the accusation for which Orellana was in trouble highlighting how Morales asserts the G77+China summit was an electoral act has not been considered neither by the justice department nor by the electoral tribunal.

The questions

Call me naive, but these events make me suspicious, and therefore, I have several questions coming up in my mind. The Orellana case was from 2011 and the Gil's case from at least two years ago. Is the Bolivian justice process so slow? Why do these cases suddenly appear less than two months before the elections? Why are other cases that touch the MAS (presumably of corruption too) not being investigated now?

It is certainly problematic for the government that all these cases against opposition candidates are being brought up right before the elections. The opposition is certain that these actions, namely the detention of candidates or their families, are politically motivated. I think, they should give something to think about.

But, don't get me wrong, I am not advocating that these cases should not be brought to justice. If they are guilty, then they should be prosecuted. However, it is the timing that makes me think there is some type of calculation here. Why now? Why not six months before? one year ago?

Using counterfactuals

If the government (the district attorney's offices) had not brought up these charges against these candidates, the MAS would have less support than otherwise. Why do I say this? Well, a while ago, I heard Morales, in a speech, say that his party's objective was to capture 86 per cent of the vote so his government would have an absolute majority. Now, I believe Evo Morales when he says that. I is really not that crazy when one places himself in his shoes for a second. His record has been indicative of a rising trend in support for every election he has run. So, if he was able to capture around 65 per cent the last time he ran, what is to stop him now that he has at his disposal the machinery and resources of the government?

Of course, others might mention the fact that he is running in a multiparty system, the fact that he has been serving for two consecutive periods and the fact that not all has gone the way he wanted, would prevent such high expectation, but we are not all perfect. Besides, he has to demonstrate confidence to the public.

Conclusion

So what is the conclusion? There is no conclusion in this post! There is only skepticism on the actions of a government which has an ambitious plan and wants to realize it against all odds. The question remains, is the government trying to manipulate the electoral outcome? Why does it not take action against its bigger rival Santa Cruz governor Costas?



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