Morales Suffers Crucial Setbacks in Bolivia’s Local Elections

Eighty percent of registered voters participated in Bolivia's national elections on Sunday.
Eighty percent of registered voters participated in Bolivia’s national elections on Sunday. (La Radio del Sur)

EspañolBolivian President Evo Morales signaled a few weeks prior to Sunday’s elections that regional administrations that remain in the hands of the opposition won’t receive any resources. Only 15 days ago, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal disqualified over 200 opposition candidates in the Beni region for allegedly publishing opinion polls without permission.

Yet preliminary results suggest that Sunday’s elections — for local councilors, municipal mayors, departmental governors, and national assembly members — did not go according to plan for the third-term Bolivian premier. Opposition parties snatched key seats and held onto others, despite Morales’s Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) securing the majority of votes, mayors, and governors.

The opposition triumphed in the governorship and municipality of La Paz, and the adjacent municipality of El Alto, a sprawling cliff-top barrio that overlooks the country’s administrative capital. Morales meanwhile kept a guarded silence, enjoying a game of indoor football after casting his vote.

Vice President Álvaro García Linera was left to put a positive spin on events, declaring that MAS “has consolidated itself as the principal political force of the country, with a presence in its nine departments.”

The front page of Bolivia daily <em>La Razón</em> showing the electoral results
The front page of Bolivia daily La Razón showing the electoral results. (PanAm Post)

In La Paz, MAS lost both the governorship and municipality to a MAS splinter group, the Sovereignty and Liberty Bolivia (SOL-BO) party, whose success is the big surprise of the polls. Of the country’s nine governorships, MAS won four, the opposition three, and two are to set to go to a second round.

Once the dust settles, the elections will have selected some 4,975 officials: governors, mayors, National Assembly members, and local authorities.

The disqualification of 228 candidates in the department of Beni belonging to the opposition Democratic Unity (UD) party failed to give MAS an outright victory in the region. The opposition held MAS to only 39 percent of the vote, making a second-round vote necessary.

Fellow opposition party Nacer is rivaling the governorship with the UD’s support. It was a complaint by a Nacer councillor, Vanessa Jiménez, that triggered the investigation which barred the UD’s members from running in the region; she was subsequently expelled from her party.

The UD has described its disqualification as “unconstitutional,” although provision exists for such an eventuality in Bolivia’s Electoral Law.

However, the opposition faced a surprise defeat in the southern colonial town of Sucre, where MAS clinched the victory over Jaime Barrón. Nevertheless, Rubén Costas of the Truth and Social Democracy party is to stay on another five years as governor of Santa Cruz, a post he’s occupied since 2006.

After presidential elections in 2014, in which Morales emerged the winner with 61 percent of votes cast, Sunday’s ballot represented a chance for MAS to consolidate its power at the local level. Nevertheless, business magnate and 2014 presidential candidate Samuel Doria Medina argued that the results demonstrate “people are beginning to tire of MAS, its arbitrary rule, and its corruption.”

Doria Madina highlighted MAS’s defeat in El Alto, “despite the threats made by the governments that it wouldn’t work with the municipality of El Alto if it fell in the hands of ‘the right.'”

The victory of Luis Revilla in the mayorship race in La Paz, with 55 percent of the votes, is another blow to MAS. Revilla served as Education minister between 2006 and 2010 before distancing himself from Morales.

Doria Medina meanwhile argued that Félix Patzi’s taking of the city’s governorship for SOL-BO indicates that “we achieved the unthinkable and broke MAS hegemony by confronting it with simplicity, force, and ideology.”

García Linera nevertheless maintained that “the country continues to support MAS,” although he suggested that “the people are with our project, but they didn’t agree with the candidates we proposed.”

He added that, while his party had won 1.5 million fewer votes than in October’s presidential polls, this hadn’t been enough to shake MAS from its predominant political position. García Linera also emphasized the “fragmentation” of the opposition, “in the face of what we represent — the only political force with a national character.”

Translated by Laurie Blair.

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