Bolivian Regional Elections: Voters Maintain Democratic Equilibrium

The results of April 4 departmental and municipal elections largely reflect previous trends in voter choices. Initial estimates indicate that the official MAS party won five out of nine governor posts: Cochabamba, La Paz, Chuquisaca, Potosi and Oruro. They may have also prevailed in Pando, although that departmental race remains too close to call before the announcement of official results later this week. Except for a solid win in Santa Cruz, opposition candidates should win by less than ten percentage points in all other departments. In municipal elections, MAS lost the majority of departmental capitals and won the rest by a small margin. These close races suggest greater polarization within each department than previously anticipated, indicating less regional divide and a more generalized difference of political opinion.

Key MAS losses included the apparent Movimiento sin Miedo (MSM) mayoral victories in La Paz and Oruro. MAS officials’ recent verbal attacks and accusations against of their former ally and MSM party leader, Juan del Granado, appear to have increased voter sympathy for that party.

Although the National Electoral Court (CNE) must still present the formal results, “quick count” tabulations show that the MAS party still faces healthy opposition in many areas of the country. These diverse political groups and parties now must exercise their objectives and proposals to strengthen better democratic debate in Bolivia with concrete proposals and willingness to compromise.

In general, initial election results reflect that:

  • Regional and local preferences are not clear indicators of shifts in support for the MAS government.
  • Bolivian voters do not always vote across the board for one party.
  • Varied voter preferences and different priorities exist than in the recent national elections. For example, Potosi re-elected AS candidate Rene Joaquino as mayor, although in December he lost the presidential bid when his department reelected Morales by a solid margin.
  • Bolivian voters often build in their own “checks and balances” by electing leaders from different political groups at different levels of government. In the past this practice has led to either compromise, or frequently blocked initiatives.
  • Support for MAS remains significantly stronger in rural zones throughout the country, demonstrated by greater wins with larger percentages in these areas.

  • In major cities and departmental capitals, close races determine that first and second place winners will have the same, or almost the same number of municipal council members. In some cases this will allow third place candidates only one seat, meaning they will decide crucial swing votes. Where MAS won close races, swing council members tend to be from opposition parties on the right, suggesting potential to block MAS initiatives.
  • Highland departments must now begin to draft their autonomy statutes, and their lowland counterparts are required to revise their illegally approved initiatives to conform to new constitutional norms.

The Role and Impact of the Opposition Presence

Opposition victories remain divided among several parties, indicating that the creation of a solid lasting alliance based on any principle beyond blocking Morales is unlikely in the near future, but could potentially occur in several years with improved proposals.

Although several lowland opposition prefects won gubernatorial elections, new guidelines regulate their relationship with the central government and constitutional stipulations restrict autonomy initiatives. In other words, their reelection does not create the potential for resurgence of the anti-Morales power bloc that pushed to overthrow his administration in September 2008. Additional legislation, such as the proposed autonomy law, is needed to further delineate the division of labor, accountability and transparency measures, as well as the obligations and limitations of departmental power.

Although the opposition won key seats in the eastern lowlands, including the governorships of Santa Cruz, Tarija and Beni, and the Santa Cruz Municipality, MAS improved its standing overall. For example, MAS’s Jessica Jordan lost to opposition incumbent Ernesto Suarez by a small margin in Beni – an estimated three percent – allowing significant MAS representation in the departmental legislative assembly. MAS may have also gained the governorship in Pando, which would be a significant symbolic victory, although official electoral court results will make the final determination. In addition, MAS won municipal elections for the first time in Pando’s capital, Cobija.

Changes in Election Procedures

For the first time, indigenous groups elected representatives to departmental legislative assemblies using their own customs and procedures, an important innovation following approval of the new constitution and electoral law. This process generally worked well, although there was a lack of consensus in some communities about how to best elect representatives.

Voters also chose one municipal council representative directly, and determined the rest by the voting percentage each mayoral candidate received.

MAS Critique Contributes to Key Mayoral Losses

MSM’s decision to break its five year alliance with MAS had a significant impact in La Paz and Oruro. The party’s platform and goals are significantly similar to MAS’s. The schism represented a concrete challenge to MAS’s apparent political dominance in the La Paz department. MSM’s leader, current mayor of La Paz Juan del Granado, enjoys a high level of respect in progressive circles for his long-term commitment to reform. However, once MSM’s alliance ended, Morales and other MAS officials leveled harsh critiques and verbal attacks at MSM, and charged del Granado with corruption accusations a week before the elections. These measures seemed to impact voter opinion negatively, backfiring on MAS.

MSM candidates won competitive percentages in a number of races, suggesting future potential to significantly challenge MAS nationally and regionally. The MSM mayoral candidate for La Paz, Luis Revilla, apparently defeated MAS candidate Elizabeth Salguero by a significant percentage (an estimated 48% to 36% win). MSM also apparently won the mayoral race in Oruro, another historic MAS stronghold.

Conclusions

Yesterday’s election results don’t reflect clear dominance of any one party. Instead, they demonstrate continued political diversity and different criteria employed by voters who clearly distinguish between national priorities and needs closer to home. Bolivian voters appear to readjust their political preferences to meet local needs and create counterweights to balance the national political system. The regional panorama remains fluid and dynamic despite claims to the contrary by both conservative opposition leaders and official MAS party members. For example, opposition leaders on the right claimed that their victories, predominantly in their traditional lowland strongholds, denote the “victory of democracy over tyranny.” President Morales highlighted substantial MAS regional gains since the previous regional and municipal elections. However, elections results confirm persistent political diversity on a national level.

The long-term impact of local elections will ultimately be determined by the new authorities’ responses to the eternal dilemma of Bolivian politics: whether to compromise with political opponents to move forward or continually block initiatives leading to renewed stalemates.

PROJECTED REGIONAL AND MUNICIPAL ELECTION OUTCOMES

Cochabamba

Mayoral Race (Cochabamba)

Gubernatorial Race

Edwin Castellanos (MAS) 43% Edmundo Novillo (MAS) 62%
Arturo Murillo (UN) 36% Jose Maria Leyes (UN) 24%

La Paz

Mayoral Race (La Paz)

Gubernatorial Race

Luis Revilla (MSM) 48% Cesar Cocarico (MAS) 47%
Elizabeth Salguero (MAS) 36% Simon Yampara (MSM) 24%

Santa Cruz

Mayoral Race (Santa Cruz de la Sierra)

Gubernatorial Race

Percy Fernandez (SST) 52% Ruben Costas (VERDES) 54%
Roberto Fernandez (MAS) 34% Jerjes Justiano (MAS) 37%

Chuquisaca

Mayoral Race (Sucre)

Gubernatorial Race

Jaime Barron (APS) 48% Esteban Urquizo (MAS) 49%
Ana Maria Quinteros (MAS) 32% Jhon Cava (CSP) 39%

Tarija

Mayoral Race (Tarija)

Gubernatorial Race

Oscar Montes (UNIR) 51% Mario Cossio (CC) 50%
Rosario Ricaldi (MAS) 24% Carlos Cabrera (MAS) 44%

Potosi

Mayoral Race (Potosi)

Gubernatorial Race

Rene Joaquino (AS) 52% Felix Gonzales (MAS) 63%
Cesar Navarro (MAS) 35% Luis Alberto Zota (AS) 14%

Pando

Mayoral Race (Cobija)

Gubernatorial Race

Ana Lucia Reis (MAS) 53% Paulo Jorge Bravo (CP) 49%
Miguel Santa Lucia Ojopi (CP) 45% Luis Adolfo Flores (MAS) 48%

Oruro

Mayoral Race (Oruro)

Gubernatorial Race

Rocio Pimentel (MSM) 39% Javier Tito (MAS) 58%
Felix Rojas (MAS) 34% Iver Pereyra (MSM) 30%

Beni

Mayoral Race (Trinidad)

Gubernatorial Race

Moises Shiriqui (PB) 42% Ernesto Suárez (PB) 43%
Marisol Aban (MNR) 26% Jessica Jordan (MAS) 40%

(http://www.lostiempos.com/resultados-elecciones-municipales-departamentales-bolivia-2010.php)