Bolivians headed to the ballot boxes once again on February 21, 2016 to vote in a referendum, which asked them to decide whether the government could amend the 2009 Constitution to allow President Morales to run again for President in 2019.
At the core of the matter was the amendment of article 168, which would allow a one time re-election of Evo Morales and his VP for a period 2020 - 2015. His current period should be coming to an end on 2019, however with this amendment it was going to be set to begin on 2020 and last the five years the Constitution allows.
This is the second time Evo Morales tries to amend the constitution to stay in power. The first time, back in April 2013, he was practically backed up by the Supreme Court, which ruled the first time Morales was elected in 2005 did not count towards his number of terms because it happened before the new Plurinational State founded in 2009.
All in all, Morales is in his third presidential period, even though the constitution has only allowed for two consecutive periods. He was first elected in December 2005 and was then re-elected in 2009, when the Plurinational State was created. His last re-election was in 2014.
The results of the February 21 referendum were:
|Source: Elections Office (OEP - TSE)|
The No option won with 51.29 % of support against a 48.71 % support for the Yes option.
A clear, yet a narrow win.
However, a look at the international and subnational levels reveals a bit more about the vote.
At the international level, according to the electoral office, Bolivians could vote in 33 countries. The yes option won with yet another narrow margin 51.37 % to 48.63 % for the no option. However, the bulk of this support came from Bolivians living in Brasil, Spain and Argentina. These three countries host the largest Bolivian communities from all countries where Bolivians live. Contrasting this picture, the majority of Bolivians living around the world voted for the no option. Especial mention has to be made for all those Bolivians living in Europe and of course, in USA. Coincidence? Your call.
At the subnational level, La Paz, El Alto, Cochabamba and Oruro departments gave their support to the yes option. These departments have been traditional regions of support for Morales and the MAS. The rest of the departments, Pando, Beni, Santa Cruz, Potosi, Chuquisaca, Tarija, supported the no option. A bit surprising here are Potosi and Chuqisaca, which have more or less tended to side with Morales. However, the government has had various problems with civic organizations in these two cities. Potosi, in particular, has felt neglected by the government. In similar manner, the results show support for the no option in all capital cities around the country. In some cities the support even went beyond 60 %.
In my opinion, the results should not be read as a vote against the Morales government. In this case, it is important to differentiate between support for the government and its administration and support for an amendment of the constitution to allow a politician to stay longer in office. It also should not be read as an victory of the political opposition, because it is not. Granted there were some overlapping points during the campaign, such as the opposition to Morales staying in power for longer time, the victory was for Bolivians opposed to the changing of the constitution. Not more and not less.
In addition, the result was a show of Bolivia's democratization process where democracy seems to be on its way to consolidation. More on this on my post here.