Above photo: Thousands of people show their support to MAS candidate Luis Arce during the campaign closure in Cochabamba on October, Tuesday 13. Twitter/@LuchoXBolivia.
Bolivia – According to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, over 7.031.294 people are expected to vote out of the country’s estimated population of 11.428.245 citizens.
On October 18, the Plurinational State of Bolivia will carry its first presidential elections after a coup that forced former left-wing Indigenous president Evo Morales to resign on November 10, 2019. Following the coup, Bolivia has faced continued turmoil, political instability, and killings and persecution of progressive leaders promoted by the de facto government of Jeanine Àñez, who tried to change the election date several times to cling to power.
The landlocked South American country, which shares borders with Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, and Peru, has the world’s largest lithium reservoir, considered the future’s energy. The lightweight metal is used to make high-powered batteries for cell phones, laptops, and hybrid cars. Bolivia’s production accounts for 50 to 70 percent of the world’s supply.
According to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, over 7.031.294 people are expected to vote out of the country’s estimated population of 11.428.245 citizens. Women and young represent the majority of the electoral roll, and about 301.631 people are expected to vote abroad in 30 countries. Thus far, all polls indicate that Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) candidate Luis Arce, from Evo Morales’s party, is the favorite to win the election.
Where does the election stand?
Since most voting intention polls grant victory to the left-wing Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), right-wing opponents have focused their campaigns in trying to discredit the MAS rather than presenting a governmental plan to recover Bolivia’s economy and to create jobs, which are the electorate’s main concerns as the country faces a steep recession.
On October 3, 2020, the Federation of Municipal Associations of Bolivia (FAM-Bolivia) and the Bolivian University Confederation (CUB) held the only electoral debate where candidates from all parties participated. In the following days, two out of seven presidential candidates who participated in that debate dropped from the race.
Hence, one week from the elections, the real contest is between leftist candidate Luis Arce from MAS; Carlos Mesa from the right-wing Citizen Community; Luis Fernando Camacho from the far-right We Believe party; Chi Hyun Chung from the evangelical Front for Victory, and Feliciano Mamani from the minor Bolivian National Action Party.
When asked about how each candidate would solve the economic and employment crisis in Bolivia, the answers revealed a deep contrast between MAS’s state-centered plan and its opponents’ neoliberal approach.
Bolivia’s former Economy Minister Luis Arce said that he would defend the distribution of bonuses as the primary way to generate employment and to protect people’s incomes. He plans to turn to industrialization and innovation as part of a strategy to create jobs. In this sense, he said that about 200.000 jobs would be created by producing renewable diesel; he also explained that the lithium projects would generate more than 1,000 jobs and 43 new industries.
“With @LuchoXBolivia Cochabamba will expand and resume production at the Bulo Bulo Urea and Ammonia Plant, and will conclude the Irivizu hydroelectric plant and the Entre Ríos thermoelectric plant; in addition to the completion of the Metropolitan Train project.”
Former president Carlos Mesa criticized state companies by remarking that many are not fulfilling their purpose but did not expand on a strategy to tackle unemployment.
Candidate Luis Fernando Camacho said that he plans to propose a general Work Law to regulate everything related to employment. Meanwhile, he would regulate working hours for young people and women, two of the groups hardest-hit by the economic crisis.
Candidate Chi Huyn Chun said he would support private companies by establishing free contracts as he intends to open another Disneyland and Las Vegas in Bolivia. Likewise, private companies should play the most crucial role in Bolivia’s economy, according to him.
Candidate Feliciano Mamani pledged to prioritize a survey to determine illegal settlements and create a plan to access construction credits.
How did the coup change Bolivia?
On November 10, 2019, President Evo Morales was forced to resign after the senior Army and police chiefs called on him to do so following weeks of right-wing unrest and violence against his October 20 election victory. This, after the Organization for the American States (OAS) published an audit highlighting irregularities in the election process and recommending new elections to be held.
Although Evo Morales resigned, the OAS report was largely criticized, even by the U.S. Congress members, since the country is the most significant contributor to its financing. In a letter to U.S. Secretary Mike Pompeo, Senator Bernie Sanders and 27 other members of the U.S. Congress expressed concern about the OAS “lack of accountability and transparency.” However, the OAS is still one of the five international organizations invited to monitor the upcoming elections.
During Evo Morales and MAS’ 14 years mandate, Bolivia became the fastest-growing economy in South America, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). MAS candidate Luis Arce, who was also Evo Morales’s Economic Minister for all those years, led a state-planned economy that focused on promoting industrialization by nationalizing Bolivia’s natural resources, especially highly valued lithium and hydrocarbons.
In 2008, only two years after Evo Morales became president, Bolivia declared that it had less than 4 percent of illiteracy, the main requirement by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to declare a nation illiteracy free. This alongside a robust program of social guarantees that included building infrastructure in cities and free healthcare and sight operations for thousands of people with Cuban doctors’ help.
All this progress has been turned upside down during the coup government of Jeanine Áñez, who invited multinationals to exploit its nationals resources. Under Áñez mandate, Bolivia is going through the first economic recession in 20 years amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to risk consulting firm Moody’s.
This while carrying consistent human rights violations, political persecution, and killings of progressive leaders. Last month Bolivia’s Ombudsman published a report denouncing that the coup government had committed crimes against humanity. The report also shows that the execution of 20 people in Sacaba and Senkata on the outskirts of the capital La Paz should be considered a massacre. However, the criminals behind this act enjoy immunity under a piece of legislation that works as a governmental umbrella to protect them.
What’s at stake?
A MAS party victory represents another milestone in returning progressive forces to the region after leftist President Alberto Fernández defeated pro-imperialist politician Mauricio Macri in Argentina. Hence, U.S. government political influence over the area is at stake, and neither the administration nor the coup government has hesitated in acknowledging a partnership ahead of the elections. The coup government is paving the way for a wave of violent confrontations under Washington’s oversight.
Earlier this month, coup government Minister Arturo Murillo went on a 4-day visit to Washington D.C. to discuss “issues of state security” and the election. Furthermore, Murillo has called voters to support former president Carlos Mesa while the coup government has reiterated that “it won’t allow a MAS victory.”
“Jubileo Poll maintains MAS candidate Luis Arce as the favorite, almost 7 points behind the second, Carlos Mesa.”
Moreover, both Murillo and Áñez have said that the Army and the police “will act to preserve democracy.” This, after recognizing that the coup government has bought lethal and non-lethal weaponry to “defend democracy.” “The National Police will act, and the Army will act,” Murillo said recently while also urging the soldiers to “leave their lives on the streets.”
Since the Army is taking care of all the electoral material and there have been several failed attempts to take the MAS party out of the political race, some analysts have warned of possible fraud in the electoral results that would force the MAS to go to a second round in which case the right-wing opponents would create an alliance to contribute to a Carlos Mesa victory.
Since then, the presidential candidates who have dropped from the race have called on their opponents to withdraw from it and unite to avoid a first-round MAS victory. Therefore they acknowledge that MAS’s popular support is more substantial than all the other parties combined.