Monday, July 03, 2006

Bolivian Elections: The People Have Spoken, Trying To Figure Out What They Said- Initial Comments

The Big Losers Everyone lost in one way or another. But if you were to show whose expectations were dashed the most it would have to Evo Morales' MAS. Despite polls that showed Evo's approval stood at 80 percent, those numbers did not translate into votes for a majority of the constituent assembly or for a negative vote on autonomy. His party, obtained 134 of 255 assembly members, a scant majority of 52,5 percent. That is critical because only an absolute majority of constitutional assembly members is needed to approve significant changes in Bolivia's Magna Carta. So Evo does not have carte blanche to rewrite the Constitution - starting with the MAS proposal to allow his own re-election.. Some analysts, saw Evo's strategy was to win a mandate to rewrite the constitution, and to come in with a country-wide majority NO vote on autonomy. With both in hand, they would be able to draft a document that blunted the autonomist aspirations of Santa Cruz - effectively keeping central control in the capital. WhereEvo did win was in Chuquisaca, -the border province if you will- whose local leaders had been pushing for autonomy, in its bid to align itself with the resource-rich East. The YES vote in the "Half Moon" departments of Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni, and Tarija was a ringing endorsement of greater autonomy for these departments - which was expected. While, most of the press -and campaign- attention is centered on Santa Cruz, in the end the YES vote of Tarija might be more important. The richest gas fields are in Tarija not Santa Cruz, and Evo campaigned heavily in the indigenous rural areas near the gas fields, and it looks like he lost even that population.

The Mainstream Political Parties
In Santa Cruz, where the opposition won in the past elections both Evo Morales 'MAS and Tuto Quiroga's PODEMOS got smaller percentages of the vote than they had in December. MAS fell 33.17 to 25.8, Podemos went from 41.80 to 24.8. The Third Party of Samuel Doria Medina, Unidad Nacional, feel from 12.5 all the way to 1.5. Traditional parties like MIR and MNR are pretty much done. So even in anti-Morales areas, the traditional parties have little if any credibility.

Rural Vs. Urban Split
The majority of Bolivians voted "No" on departmental autonomy 56.2 percent against 43.8 percent. At first glance that could be interpreted as a rejection of the "Civic" leadership of Santa Cruz. But on the other hand, since the popular vote in the Eastern departments was strongly pro-autonomy and MAS can not re-write the constitution, Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija are in a strong position to at least get some favorable language in the new Constitution.

While the numbers do show an East-West divide, there are surprising points of convergence, country-wide. And there seems to be a profound split between urban and rural dwellers all over the country.

In La Paz 83,3 of all rural voters voted NO on autonomy, while 71.5 of the urban population voted NO. Much of the same trend (and even higher percentages) was seen in the highland departments of Potosi, Oruru, and Chuquisaca. But that 17 and 28 percent of YES votes, shows a significant percentage of urban opposition to Evo, and by no means a complete endorsement in rural regions. It would be nice to see it broken down by income, I would guess that it shows that the middle and upper classes are in line with Santa Cruz.

Evo's base of support is in Cochabamba. A staggering 72 percent of rural residents of Cochabamba voted no to autonomy, BUT- a majority of urban dwellers voted "YES" at 50.2 percent. While that shows the strength of MAS, a closer examinamination shows some interesting things. In terms of income distributions, that 50.2 percent that voted for autonomy, doubtlessly included many of the poorest Cochabambinos - Evo's base of support, who might have even split the ticket when they voted for the assembly. And the results, also show that 28 percent of rural dwellers in Evo Morales' base of strength, were not swayed enough by the governmental campaign.

YES got its highest percentages in Beni 73.4 percent, Tarija at 65.4, and Pando at 52.9 percent.

In Santa Cruz, YES got a 75.6% of urban residents, the rural residents were less certain at 64%. NO received a total of 24,4% of urban voters, and 36% of rural voters. That does show a significant amount of support for the autonomy position, and those numbers would show that cuts well across income and racial lines. But, on the other hand, it does show there is a significant amount of rural opposition. And based on numbers collected at areas further from the city and among indigenous peoples such as the Chiquitos - the NO votes and MAS votes overwhelmed the YES votes. That illustrates the larger problem that the pro-autonomy forces face. They have not managed to shake the impression that they represent the landowner class, which has ignored native claims and has pushed for its own interests rather forcefully - to put it mildly.

Random Thoughts

I would not be surprised to find crossover voting, i.e. people voting "No" to autonomy, but voting against MAS candidates to the Constituent, and a "yes" to autonomy and a vote for MAS to the assembly.

Methinks that even among Evo supporters, including indigenous peoples, not everyone is willing to give Evo carte blanche to do drastic changes in the Constitution. There are long memories of dictatorial power here.

If Bolivians are truly voting "split ticket" here, it might show the maturation of democracy.