November 30, 2017

Evo Morales, Allowed to Run Again for the Presidency

MABB ©

Source: ABI

Evo Morales will be able to run again in 2019 for an unprecedented fourth presidential term. That is how the opposing political forces are interpreting the constitutional court's finding regarding a "Abstract recourse of unconstitutionality" submitted by MAS' congress men and women to the court in September 2017. The decision has triggered sharp reactions from the opposition and many spontaneous demonstrations condemning it in major cities such as La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. The government has shown itself pleased with the decision and so have the political forces supporting Morales' re-election.

The decision involves the nullification of all the articles within the 2009 constitution, and the subsequent change of the electoral law, which set limits to the terms higher public officials have once elected to office. In the case of the president, the vice president, governors and assembly members, the term was five years with the possibility for re-election of two consecutive times. These limits are now nullified and the result is that a president or governor can run for office indefinitely. 

The reaction on the streets has been widespread. Hours after the announcement of the decision by the court's president, people gathered around the government buildings of major regional capital cities. In La Paz, protesters encountered police resistance which provoked clashes, but no serious violence. In contrast, in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba groups of mainly young protesters proceeded to enter government buildings to which police forces responded firmly and aggressively. In Santa Cruz there were even some reports of arrests and in Cochabamba the press reported the use of rubber bullets. However, the reaction has been largely moderate, with opposition leaders making alarming comments as to the beginning of the end for the Bolivian democratic process and the government ignoring the decision made by the population in the

On its part, the government reacted calmly. Evo Morales praised the decision and highlighted its contribution to political stability and the continuation of the process of change. He also reminded the people that not only he and the vice president would benefit from such decision but every Bolivian who wants to run of any public office. In that respect, beneficiaries are also governors, mayors, assembly members and so on. Similar was the reaction of many government officials and of many social movement leaders, who praised the decision as a significant contribution to democracy and not against it.

Another political fallout is the call by the opposition to nullify the vote in the so called "judicial elections" on Sunday, December 3. On this day, Bolivians will be electing judges to the most important courts in the country, including the supreme court and the constitutional court. The opposition has been promoting the nullified vote and now this strategy might have a real chance to succeed. Meanwhile, the government has been campaigning against such strategy. After all, if people vote null in significant numbers, this time around, it will be interpreted as a vote against the re-election of Evo Morales. That is what the government wants to avoid at all costs.

Moreover, in a somewhat unusual move, the US government has issued a statement urging Evo Morales to desist running in 2019 and to remember the results of the February 21, 2016 referendum when the no to allowing Morales to run again won by 51.3%. The short statement states: "The United States is deeply concerned by the November 28 ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal of Bolivia to declare inapplicable provisions of the country’s constitution that prohibit elected officials, including the President, from serving more than two consecutive terms. The decision disregards the will of the Bolivian people as confirmed in recent referendum"

At the same time, Luis Almagro, OAS Secretary General, also criticized the court's finding calling it inaccurately interpreted. In similar terms, several political personalities, Carlos Mesa, Jorge Quiroga,Victor Hugo Cárdenas, current Governor of Santa Cruz, Rubén Costas and Unidad Nacional's leader, Samuel Doria Medina, jointly expressed their rejection of the decision and announced the construction of a "real alternative" political force for the coming general elections in 2019.

In the end, the implications of such decision are manifold. To start of, the 2009 constitution has been reformed. The phrase expressing the term limits "por una sola vez  de manera continua" (something like, for one time and in continued manner) will have to be removed, not only from the constitution but also from the electoral law. Now, some doubts arise in regards of the reform process. Will this reform be total or partial? Article 411 of the same constitution stipulates there are two types of reform. Total reform, which concerns the fundamental ideas within it, such as rights, responsibilities and guarantees, will have to be carried out by a constitutional assembly. A partial reform, which remains undefined, will have to be carried out through a reform law issued by the Bolivian Assembly (both lower and upper houses), which will have to be approved by a referendum.

A more immediate reaction might be on the results of Sunday's judicial elections, as mentioned above. On December 3, Bolivians will vote to elect new judges for the various courts, among them the Supreme and the Constitutional courts. This decision might provide support for the opposition's null vote strategy to undermine the government's work. That is certainly a possibility.

Another consequence will be the re-election of Evo Morales. Morales has repeatedly said he leaves this decision to the Bolivian peoples. In this case, the people has spoken through the initiative to submit this petition to the constitutional court. In fact, this decision was one of four paths MAS supporters decided to follow in a meeting back in December 2016. Now that the decision to allow Morales and other heads of sub national governments to run again has been made, Morales intends to follow through with his intention to run again. Of course, the opposition sees Morales' decision to run once again as his intention to stay in power indefinitely. Morales, of course, denies this claim. Fact is, he (and other politicians) can run again for a fourth term. Fact is also, that he will still have to be elected by the popular vote.

Well, now some skeptics will say now, Morales controls government, the assembly and the electoral court and therefore he is bound to win the next elections. Others will claim he will manipulate those elections. Some commentators have already advanced this claim. However, one thing that makes me stop before I join this line of opinion is the fact that previous elections have been observed by international organizations such as the EU and the Carter Center and the reports have largely been positive calling those electoral processes free.

One worrying consequence might be that a political crisis might be brewing in Bolivia. People who have supported the no vote in the 2016 referendum feel very angry. In fact, most people who voted for the no must be feeling angry as well. After all, the no won. These people believed the electorate or "the people" have spoken and that was it. They do not perceive the "people" as the sovereign for no reason. They think the "people" has the last word. The question is, what will these people are willing to do now that their work and wish have been in vain. The potential for an escalation of events is there. If you saw the images in Santa Cruz or Cochabamba, you must have heard some of those people calling for resistance, even violent resistance. That is worrying.