Municipal and Departmental Election Preliminary Results

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These are the preliminary results, based on exit polls and estimates, of yesterday's (April 4) municipal and departmental (+ autonomy) elections in Bolivia. You can find this information in 24 Hours, and much more. It goes without saying, these results are not yet official. Official results will be published by the electoral court on April 24.

First of all, just to remind us, in these elections Bolivians voted to elect departmental and municipal governments, including heads of governments and legislatures. In the case of departments, a governor and a departmental council were elected. In municipalities, a mayor and a municipal council were elected. All in all, around 2511 officials were elected in 9 departments and 337 municipalities as well as indigenous territories.

After the overwhelming win of Evo Morales and his party, MAS, in last december (2009) elections, when they gained the control of the executive and the legislative branches of government, these elections were about the consolidation of power for the governing party.

As you can already perceive from the graphs above, the government is pretty sure to have gained the control of at least 5 departmental governments in La Paz, Oruro, Potosi, Cochabamba, and Sucre. Meanwhile, the opposition is pretty sure to have gained Santa Cruz, Tarija and Beni. As I write this post, Pando is in a tie, thus no one knows if it will join the opposition or the government sides. However, there are two things to observe. First, the MAS wins are pretty comfortable. In La Paz, the MAS incumbent might have won with at least 20 to 25 per centage points of advantage. Similarly, in Cochabamba and Oruro, the advantage for MAS was 30 plus or minus percentage points. In Potosi the advantage borders 45 percentage points. Second, and contrasting the aforementioned, if we observe the wins of the opposition, we conclude these are not so solid. In Tarija and Beni, for example, the opposition incumbent's advantages lie between 5 and 9 percentage points. The only clear win (absolute majority) and thus avoiding a second round of elections is that of Ruben Costas in Santa Cruz with around 15 percentage points.

At the municipal level, the picture is somewhat sobering for MAS and Evo Morales. It is predicted that 7 out of the 10 largest cities in the country went for the opposition. These cities are significant in political terms. Worth mentioning is the win of Movimiento Sin Miedo (MSM) in MAS territories such as the cities of La Paz and Oruro, of PAIS in Sucre and AS in Potosi. These results are being handled as the surprises of the elections. No surprise were the wins of the opposition in the cities of Santa Cruz, Tarija and Trinidad.

What does this all mean?

In my opinion it means the confirmation of the status quo with a small, yet significant defeat for MAS at the municipal level. The prospect that MAS might be controlling 6 out of the 9 departmental governments means that, at this level of government, Evo Morales and his national government have indeed significantly weakened (if not destroyed) the media luna. The opposition, which once included Beni, Pando, Santa Cruz, Tarija, and Sucre, has now been reduced to Santa Cruz, Tarija and Pando. Very significant loses for the opposition, especially of Beni. This was the case during Evo Morales' first term and this will be the case for his next term.

If the above municipal level results are any indication for the final results, MAS will suffer a modest defeat in these elections. What is significant, is the defeat of MAS candidates in La Paz and Oruro. These results show that, the perceived unity of MAS at the national level is confronted with reality of local politics and local interests at the local level. It might also be the result of the strategies MAS has pursued to win in municipalities. In La Paz, for example, MAS opted to break a long-standing partnership with MSM.

In addition, at the national level, these results will mean that Evo Morales and his government will have to engage in negotiation with the opposition more often that they would like. The opposition, while weakened, is still present and now stronger due to the autonomic process. The most immediate test of the new balance of power in Bolivia will be the coming law for autonomy and decentralization. There, the government and the opposition will have to negotiate several things. One, the negotiations will touch on the competencies attributed to the departments. Here it will get complicated because not only the national government and the departmental governments have to be involved but also the municipal governments. Two, another complicated topic is the sources for financing the process. Where will the money come from? That is the big question that has to be negotiated. Three, in some cases such as the indigenous and regional autonomies, the national territory will have to be changed. Inevitably, I see some disputes on internal boundaries coming.

Who's got the power now?

The question is, has MAS consolidated its power in Bolivia? My answer is, not as it would have to. On the one side, MAS has control of the national level of government and perhaps some control over the departmental level of government. At the municipal level, at this point, it is hard to tell. The official results are not out yet.

The problem for MAS is the autonomy process. With gained autonomy from the part of departments and municipalities, the national government has less influence in the internal affairs of each political-administrative unit. Unless, of course, the autonomy remains in paper and reality is different.

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