Bolivia: elections and political crisis

An acute political crisis has opened in Bolivia after the presidential elections of October 20. President Evo Morales announced his victory by a margin of just over 10%, with which he would win in the first round. The main opposition candidate, Carlos Mesa denounced fraud and demands the celebration of a second round, and Evo responded that it is an attempted coup d’etat. Mobilizations and clashes broke out between the two sides, each claiming to defend democracy, and the country fell into a strong institutional and legitimacy crisis.

Evo Morales reached this election with an advanced deterioration of his social base and general legitimacy. Shortly after assuming the presidency he betrayed the October Program of the 2000 and 2003 revolutions that overthrew Sánchez de Lozada and brought Evo´s MAS to power, by agreeing with the right and capitalists on approving the Political Constitution of the State, passing over the 2008 Constituent Assembly.

Since then, although delivering concessions to the mass movement and increasing the state´s participation in the economy, Evo has positioned himself as guarantor of capitalist business in Bolivia, maintaining the dependent and extractivist economic model. This led him to collide and break with sectors of the working class and the indigenous peasantry that makes up the bulk of his social base. A central expression of this rupture has been the state repression and criminalization of social protest, including against miners and coca growers in northern La Paz, who already have more than 200 prosecuted peasants.

In 2016 Evo called a referendum to modify the constitution and enable his third re-election, which he ended up losing. But the following year, the Plurinational Constitutional Court ignored the referendum and declared the articles of the Constitution that prevent a second reelection unconstitutional, enabling Evo to run this year for his fourth presidential term. In this way, the president arrived at the current election with his democratic legitimacy strongly questioned.

Carlos Mesa, meanwhile, is an exponent of the traditional right. He was the vice president of Sanchez de Lozada himself, assumed the presidency when Lozada was thrown out by popular mobilization in 2003 and had to resign himself after massive mobilizations against him two years later. Today he presents himself as an alternative, but he represents everything that has already ruled and plunged Bolivia into dependence and poverty.

The current crisis broke out during the vote count. Around 8:00 pm with 83.8% of votes counted, the Transmission of Preliminary Electoral Results granted Evo Morales 45.3% of the votes, seven points above Mesa, which implied a second round. But at that time, the Supreme Electoral Court suspended the counting and transmission of the results, until 15 hours later, when they published the final results, which showed a drastic change in the trend and declared Evo the winner with 47% and 10.5 points above Mesa, which implies a win in the first round.

The announcement triggered a series of mass mobilizations, the courts of Sucre and Potosí were set on fire and clashes between police and protesters took place in several cities. Mesa denounced fraud and launched a heterogeneous Defense of Democracy Coordination, on which the old oligarchic and racist right has mounted itself, as has US imperialism. The OAS stated that it would only recognize the result of the election if it was subject to a “binding” audit, and “recommended” the celebration of a second round even if Evo ends up maintaining a difference greater than 10%. The governments of the United States, Brazil and Argentina also demand the convening of a second round “in the event that the OAS Electoral Observation Mission is not in a position to verify the results of the first round.” This is a blatant interference in internal politics and attack on the sovereignty of Bolivia.

However, mass adherence to protests is indicative of the growing disappointment with Evo’s model. In addition to the massive participation of students, the Federation of Neighborhood Boards of El Alto (Fejuve), one of the protagonists of the 2003 Gas War that catapulted Evo to power two years later, has joined the protest.

Other trade union and peasant organizations, such as the CONALCAM, the COB and the COR, have mobilized in defense of Evo, arguing that the opposition wants to disenfranchise the peasant and indigenous votes that allegedly reversed the trend in the election.

Both sides raise the defense of democracy in order to sustain a system that guarantees capitalist profits over the people’s needs and rights. National Chamber of Industries is indicative in this regard. It issued a careful statement asking that the Political Constitution of the State and the Electoral Law be respected and calling on citizens to preserve the normal development of economic activity. The statement reflects that the interests of entrepreneurs feel assured whoever wins, and that they are more concerned with maintaining the stability of their businesses in the context of a global crisis that will force the next government to move forward with austerity measures similar to those that are causing social uprisings in other countries of the region, like Ecuador and Chile.

No solution in favor of workers and peasants will come from a government of Carlos Mesa or Evo Morales. The problems of the Bolivian people will not be resolved with the celebration or not of a second round. Therefore, it is essential to adopt an independent class position that rejects, in the first place, any imperialist interference in the country or coup attempt of the oligarchic right, but that also demands profound change, through a free and sovereign constituent assembly, in which Bolivian workers and peasants can discuss and decide on what political, economic and social bases to organize their country. And the construction of a working class and revolutionary alternative that fights for a government of workers and peasants and a socialist Bolivia and Latin America.