June 02, 2015

Subnational Elections 2015: The Results and Their Implications


The sub-national elections in Bolivia took part a while ago, but as I mentioned in a prior post, the results were not ready until a couple of runoff elections took place, in Beni and Tarija. Well the elections took place and the official results were published in the Plurinational Electoral Organ's web site here. However, these are only the raw results. A look at them will say very little about the political implications. Therefore, here is an attempt to make those results more understandable and accessible.

First of all, it is important to clarify the fact that sub-national elections are those elections at the departmental and municipal levels of government. Let's remember the national elections took place in 2014. Since the Bolivian system is becoming more and more similar to a federal system and therefore difficult to understand, it is more and more difficult to see the political significance of those elections. Above all, there is little information out there trying to explain the Bolivian system.

What you will see below are the results, taken directly from the electoral agency and formatted in an understandable manner to better show who won and what the distribution of power is at the sub-national level. The distribution of seats for seven departmental assemblies are my own work following the system of distribution given by law.

Races for Governor:

The following table shows the results for the Governor races in every department. It shows the winning party or political organization, the percentage of the votes with which these organizations and the candidates won and the last names of the new Governors.

BeniCochabambaChuquisaca*La PazOruroPandoPotosiSanta CruzTarija
*Chuquisaca's results were inconclusive because the difference between the first runner up and the second was less than 10 per cent, however the electoral office later nullified the opposition's votes and therefore this way favored the incumbent who did not have to go to a run-off. Here is the video.

The following comments give the full name of the new Governors and some commentary about them.

- Santa Cruz remains a strong-hold of the opposition with Ruben Costas siting firm on the Governor's chair.

- Tarija shows it remains a contested region with a new comer, Adrian Oliva.

- La Paz boasts a not so surprising turn-around from MAS towards a not so MAS-supporting citizen organization led by Felix Patzi, a former MAS militant from the indigenist wing who has become a critic of Morales accusing him of betraying the indigenous wing of the political instrument MAS.

- Cochabamba elected Ivan Canelas, a former journalist and MAS sympathizer.

- Oruro elected Victor Hugo Vasquez.

- Potosi elected Juan Carlos Cejas

- The new Governors of Oruro  and Potosi respectively, won the races with comfortable margins of between 54 and 60 per cent. No surprises here.

- Pando elected MAS candidate Luis Adolfo Flores who won the race with over 64 per cent. That is surprising because Pando used to be an opposition strong-hold.

- Chuquisaca elected Esteban Urquizo and Beni Alex Ferrier. In these two departments the margin of victory is very close. However, while in Beni seems to be already clear, in Chuquisaca seems to be somewhat problematic.

Departmental Assembly seat distribution:

The following graph shows the seat distribution in each departmental assembly.

Source: Own elaboration with data from the Bolivian electoral agency. All errors are my own. Note: The Tarija and Pando results have not been calculated for reasons of system complexity and lack of data. Click on the image for a larger view.
The distribution of power:

Regarding the Governor races, MAS governs now in six of the nine departments. When we compare these results to the last elections in 2010, the situation for MAS is about the same. However, during the period 2010 - 2015, the MAS was able to increase its control of the departmental governments to 8 of the 9 governments through different legal strategies.

Looking at the percentage results, almost all departments where the MAS candidate won (with the exception of Beni and Chuquisaca) present a relative comfortable lead with percentages between 57 and 66 percentage points. This could be interpreted as an advantage for the MAS because of the relative wide support for the Governor candidates. However, we have to think about the power distribution in each assembly because, as much as any other federal system, the departmental assemblies have a lot to say and if the Governor does not command majorities there, it can be very difficult for them to make policy.

For Beni and Chuquisaca, with respective percentages of 50 and 49 percent, the lead is not comfortable, but is a lead and according to the Bolivian system, it is enough to claim the win. However, it should be highlighted that at least half of the people there voted for an opponent.

It is interesting that in La Paz, a former MAS-dominated department, now governs the Sovereignty and Liberty (Sol.bo) citizens group. This situation should be a warning to the MAS and they should be analyzing this situation very carefully. To lose a MAS-dominated department like La Paz should be really worrisome for the MAS and Morales. In addition, Santa Cruz is interesting because in spite of the many efforts (also significant governmental resources invested) from the part of the government to gain support in the department, the Democratas citizens group has been able to win in an overwhelming manner. Once again, Santa Cruz has shown it is the strong hold of the opposition and will remain that in the near future. In similar terms, Tarija has been able to show it is the other pole within the opposition giving its support to the Autonomist Departmental Unity (UD-A). These observations suggest a slight loss of influence by the MAS. For one, the inability to hold support where the support was overwhelming before as well as the inability of the MAS to gain influence in Santa Cruz, much the same way they did this in Pando and Beni.

Notwithstanding, the relative clarity with which the governor candidates have won their races, while important, it is not decisive. As we know, each one of the departments has a full government and to this government the assemblies have a very important role. In that manner, the distribution of seats within each assembly and the ensuing distribution of power is also important for the ability of the Governor to govern and for his party to pass laws.

In that respect, and at a firs look, the results for Governor elections also show a hint of weakness for the government party. It seems the MAS is losing ground and the opposition is finally arriving, albeit not in a coordinated manner. This statement is based on the fact that from the 8 MAS-dominated governorships, now 6 are left. In addition, if we look at the distribution of seats within each assembly, the situation of the MAS changes.

In Chuquisaca, for example, Urquizo (MAS) won the race with a small margin but if we consider that the MAS controls 15 of the 21 seats we can say that he will have a pretty easy time making policy. To that, if we add the two indigenous seats that are reserved for indigenous groups (which has been the norm in prior years), the MAS-faction will control 17 of the 21 seats. That is a comfortable position to be in.

In Cochabamba, Canelas (MAS) won the race with a comfortable margin. In addition to that, the MAS controls now 26 of the 34 seats in the assembly. Counting the 2 indegenous seats, the MAS-faction controls 28 of the 34 seats. This is another comfortable majority for the MAS. Now while it is difficult to imagine the Democratas faction supporting MAS, it is not so unimaginable to speculate that the member representing the citizen organization Unico in the assembly may decide to vote with MAS some times. It has happened often in prior situations, not only in Cochabamba but in other departments and even at the national level.

In Oruro, Vazquez (MAS) can look to a very favorable environment. The MAS has gained 22 of the 33 seats, and the MAS-faction, including the 1 indigenous seats, would then be 23 out of 33. The MAS has a good majority, which could be even more comfortable if the members of UCS and PP decide to go along with the MAS.

In Potosi, Cejas (MAS) can also look forward to a comfortable period. The MAS controls 26 of the 32 seats in the assembly. This time there are not indigenous seats, but the MAS majority does not need any other organization. The opposition here will be difficult.

La Paz represents a special case, not only because it supports now an opposition citizen group Sol.bo but because the candidate elected (Patzi) is a critic of Morales. To that, when we look at the distribution of power within the assembly we realize that MAS has still 25 of the 45 seats. This represents a strong opposition and slight absolute majority. However, Patzi may expect support from his supporters (12), from UN (2) and ASP (1). While this might not be enough, it remains to see who will the indigenous seats support. If we assume the normal case, the MAS will have a comfortable control of the assembly. If we assume the indigenous supporting the sol.bo organization, which may happen due to a general dissatisfaction with the MAS within the indigenous organizations in La Paz, the situation can be somewhat difficult for the MAS. In such case, the party may even experience some defections (which have happened before). However, for the most part, the MAS can look to a favorable cooperation with Patzi and his organization. The signals have already been sent by Patzi.

In Santa Cruz, Costas (Democratas) can look forward to a comfortable period. The dominant force in the assembly is the Democratas with 17 of the 28 seats. In this case, the indigenous have tended to differ significantly with the MAS and have taken the opposition side. This would mean, if this happened, that the Democratas-faction would control 22 of the 28 seats in the assembly. In any case, the MAS-faction has a moderate size in this assembly. This means, it is not obsolete but it is pretty weak.

In Beni, Ferrier (MAS) has captured what once was a strong hold of the opposition. In addition, MAS has captured 12 of the 28 seats in the assembly. This is the only case of a MAS-captured governorship that has not achieved a majority in the assembly. Therefore, the governing for Ferrier will not be easy or as comfortable as his colleagues in other departments. Also, in the Eastern part of the country or the so called low lands, the indigenous peoples are not as supportive of the government as in the high lands, thus the support of the indigenous seats in the assembly are not assumed to support the MAS. This presents a further problem for Ferrier. Lastly, assuming the opposition unites, i.e. the MNR, Nacer and the indigenous members form a block, they would control 16 of the 28 seats. Once again, this would be a problem for MAS and the Governor. Perhaps, that is the reason why the Governor has already signaled his willingness to work together with the opposition.

Municipalities and Departmental Capitals

The departmental capitals are just one municipality among 339, but because of their visibility and their conditions as departmental capitals are very significant politically.

In the departmental capitals, La Paz, El Alto, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Oruro, Pando, Potosi, Beni, Sucre and Tarija won, respectively, Luis Revilla (SOL.BO), Soledad Chapeton (UN), Jose Leyes (Democratas), Perci Fernandez (SCPC), Edgar Bazan (MCSFA), Luis Ribeiro (PUD), William Cervantes (MAS), Mario Suarez (MNR), Jorge Arcienega (MAS), and Rodrigo Paz (UNIR).

The assemblies for the departmental capitals are composed thus:

Source: Los Tiempos online at www.lostiempos.com
As you can see, Revilla in La Paz, Leyes in Cochabamba, Fernandez in Santa Cruz, Hurtado in Beni and Paz in Tarija have a comfortable majority in the assemblies and can govern with some easiness. Ribeiro in Pando and Arcienega in Chuquisaca have some hurdles due to the even situation within the assembly. In this case, both assemblies and Governors will be dependent on the one vote that will decide the majority. This is, assuming party discipline. In the rest of the departmental capitals, Oruro and Potosi, seems that the assemblies have a multi-party and thus a more difficult situation to build a majority.


While it might seem from the Governor races that MAS has lost influence and support overall, at least when compared to the election before, in reality the party still has a comfortable hold of power within the political system and specially regarding the seat distribution within the departmental assemblies. Particular is only the facts that La Paz has changed preferences, Santa Cruz and Tarija remain strong-holds for the opposition and that there are a couple of not so stable conditions for the MAS in Chuquisaca and Pando.

However, it all points to the MAS and Morales been able to continue with their efforts to implement their agenda. The opposition should be able to gain some support as a result of the government's wearing out in its third government term.

The big discussion now is going to be the re-election question. Will Morales attempt to stay in power beyond of what the constitution "he" and his party wrote allows?

Electoral law 26
Source 1