As predicted, the Movement for Socialism (MAS) has consolidated its hegemony in the 12 October general elections under the leadership of Evo Morales.
Although the official and final results are not yet released, preliminary data suggests that the MAS achieved its objective of obtaining at least two thirds in the Upper Chamber and a similar percentage in the Lower Chamber. This could pave the way for the constitutional reforms considered necessary to further deepen and broaden the political process started in January 2006.
The overwhelming MAS victory in the Santa Cruz region (near 50 per cent of all votes) is symptomatic of the recent elections. This bastion of political opposition and economic power groups initially opposed to the Morales government has come out as one of its main supporters. This is a good indicator of the successful strategy applied for political, territorial and social expansion of the “democratic and cultural revolution.” This is critical as it is the strongest region economically, with the second largest population.
The MAS did lose some voters in the Andean regions; its main support base since 2002, however the figures are not significant enough to indicate a defeat in the near future.
These elections have illustrated yet again how much value the Bolivian public place in their votes. The strong belief that participation in elections is a right and a civic duty appears to be the primary driver, above and beyond the mandatory obligation to vote. This forms the basis of legitimate constitution of the public powers and, therefore, of democracy. The election day proceeded without incident, in a quiet and respectful milieu.
One crucial achievement of the elections is the substantial increase of women elected to the Plurinational Legislative Assembly. Preliminary figures indicate around women now hold around 47 per cent of the total seats in both Chambers. This is significant as in parallel to the election campaign women’s organizations (social, political, non-governmental, cultural and other organizations), had prepared a Political Agenda from Women’s Perspective. This agenda is expected to guide the actions of a significant percentage of the women elected as members of parliament. Thus, in their medium and long-term performance, these women can have a relevant impact on the quality of Bolivian democracy.
However some problems did surface during the election. The performance of the Plurinational Electoral Body, and more notoriously, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal as the primary organizer for the elections has been criticized.
Beyond some anecdotal matters, such as the ballot paper saying “Plurinominal State” of Bolivia instead of “Plurinational State”, more serious issues were identified. Institutional and operational weakness of the OEP became apparent during the day. The official vote count on the national level was interrupted on the night of Sunday 12 October, because the TSE’s computer system collapsed. The results are available on website www.oep.org.bo as of today 20 October 2014. However announcements had already been made indicating that the final results would be available by 20:00 the same day.
The OAS and UNASUR election observation missions have highlighted these shortcomings and are expected to issue recommendations to resolve them. This is imperative as the accuracy, transparency and therefore legitimacy of the elections could be put into question. Let us not forget that following several dictatorial interregnums Bolivian democracy has achieved a prolonged period of stability and consistency (32 years of uninterrupted democracy this October). This has primarily been achieved due to the creation of a fully reliable and efficacious Electoral Body. This body has ensured that citizen votes remain the most important instrument in expressing the people’s sovereign will, even in circumstances of considerable political and social tension.
During the past few hours some political organizations have vented complaints of alleged irregularities, manipulation and even fraud in the vote counting process in the Chuquisaca, Cochabamba and Tarija regions. Although the Supreme Electoral Tribunal has rejected such allegations, the Departmental Electoral Tribunals of Cochabamba and Tarija have temporarily suspended the vote count. This has led to an increase in the level of doubt and distrust regarding the validity and impartiality of the elections.
Unless properly dealt with, this situation could pose a serious threat for the subnational elections to renew the regional and municipal governments scheduled for March 2015.