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.


Elections 2014: Where is the Political Campaign?

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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.



September 08, 2014

Manipulation of Elections or Mere Coincidence?

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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?