April 26, 2009

Electoral Season in Bolivia

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The electoral season is taking shape and the possible candidates for the December general elections are taking their first steps. In the course of last week, former Vicepresident during the first term of Sanchez de Lozada, Victor Hugo Cardenas has decided to confirm his intention to run for president. Cardenas, of Aymara descent, said he is working on his candidacy's bureaucratic process, on his financing and his coalition building.

Cardenas is a clear rival for Morales and one of the many candidates with indigenous roots expected to take part in the elections this time around. He has the potential to attract adherents not only in the Altiplano, which is where he comes from, but also in the Eastern lowlands of the country. The Santa Cruz Prefect, Ruben Costas, has put emphasis on building a national coalition to confront the government in the elections. Cardenas might just be the candidate of elections for this coalition.

Meanwhile, on the part of the government some problems emerge on the horizon. Most important is the erosion of support within the ranks of MAS. In the last weeks the indigenous of the Eastern lowlands have expressed their desire to "revise" their relationship with the government. The CIDOB (Confederacion de Indigenas del Oriente de Bolivia) were upset the government did not pressed on the number of "special districts" for indigenous in the new Congress. The new electoral law only has 8 of these districts and not 14 as it was demanded by indigenous groups. With that, the seats for CIDOB were eliminated.

But the MAS' problems do not end there. A now dissident, founder and former leader of MAS, Roman Loayza, has been hinting at joining the elections as candidate. Loayza has criticized before some of the decisions Morales has taken regarding his cabinet. Specifically, Loayza dislikes the presence of Alfredo Rada, Juan Ramon Quintana and the Peredo brothers whom he links with traditional parties and says have hijacked Morales and the presidency. Loayza argues that there are a number of groups unhappy with morales' performance, namely the indigenous faction with in MAS. He cites as examples his travels and conversations with indigenous people in Santa Cruz, Beni and Pando. At the same time, some signs of dissatisfaction come from the Santa Cruz neighborhood and MAS stronghold, Plan 3000.

Also signs of dissatisfaction are shown in El Alto. The city's council member, Roberto de la Cruz, has expressed he has been approached by groups unhappy about the way Morales has been governing and has been urged to seek his candidacy. That way bringing an alternative to MAS.

On the electoral race there is already Rene Joaquino of AS in Potosi who has also announced his candidacy. This is another potential problem for MAS since it is bound to split the vote in Potosi. In any case, Loayza and Joaquino are in conversations about a possible coalition. So there might be a new coalition coming.

Another indigenous or campesino announcing his candidacy was Alejo Veliz of Cochabamba.

So it seems MAS has its problems. Support might be dwindling due to Morales' decision to stick with the people around him or it might just be a strategy to win the 2/3 majority in the next Congress.

I explain myself. In the elections for the Constituent Assembly, a strategy MAS used was to present itself, at the local level, with a different name altogether. This was to adjust itself to local conditions and to somehow distract the opposition. After the candidates were elected, these allied with MAS. In the end MAS had a majority, very close to a super majority. Simple! If this strategy paid off in 2006, it might just be that MAS wants to use it again in December 2009. It might just be that Loayza, Veliz, Gil and others are just pretending to split from MAS to gain the votes and later on ally with MAS. After all, this is the government who said they were just bluffing in the new constitution negotiations with the opposition in Congress so they would get just what they wanted in the end. Let's remember that.


La Prensa.