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Bolivia: huge MAS majority confirmed

New government takes power, as Evo Morales returns home

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LAB is publishing this second special bulletin from Bolivia Information Forum. Written on 28 October, it contains details of the final results of the election and excellent background analysis.

CandidateLa PazCocha-bambaSanta CruzChuqui-sacaOruroPotosíTarijaBeniPando
Arce65.363.1  62.451.5  45.8
Mesa   52.4  51.041.3 
Camacho  45.2      

Arce wins with 55.10%

As reported in our Special Bulletin of 19 October, quick count polls carried out on polling day gave the MAS candidate Luis Arce Catacora with David Choquehuanca his vice-presidential running mate, as the expected winners of the 2020 presidential elections with a majority vote of 52.4% (Ciesmori) and 53% (Tu Voto Cuenta).

The official count by the Electoral Tribunal (TSE), finished in record time on 23 October, surpassed even these results: Arce gained 55.10% of valid votes; Carlos Mesa for Comunidad Ciudadana (CC), 28.83%; and Luis Fernando Camacho for Creemos, 14%.  The vote for Arce and the MAS was higher than that gained by Evo Morales when he won the December 2005 election (53.72%), and higher than the vote for Morales in the aborted 2019 elections (47.08%).

The date for the handover, 8 November, promises to be one of celebration, and Arce will no doubt roll out his proposals for confronting problems such as dealing with the health system, immediate economic measures and proposals for the recovery of the economy.  He is likely to name his cabinet then, or the following day.  Evo Morales has made known his intention to return to Bolivia on 9 November.  Some judicial charges against him have been dropped.

Evo Morales returns from exile, 9 November 2020. Video: France 24 English

Meanwhile reports continue of attempts to stir up the political climate, seeking military intervention, particularly in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba.  As we go to press, we have been informed that Orlando Gutiérrez, General Secretary of the Miners Federation (FSTMB), who suffered a beating at the hands of thugs in La Paz recently, has died in hospital.

Final results (Official count, TSE)

With 100% of the votes counted, final results (i.e. ‘valid’ votes, without null and void ones) were as follows:

Luis Arce, Movimiento al Socialismo                                      55.10

Carlos Mesa, Comunidad Ciudadana                                      28.83

Luis Fernando Camacho, Creemos                                         14.00

Chi Hyun Chung, Frente para la Victoria                                  1.55

Feliciano Mamani, Pan-Bol                                                      0.52    

Participation was very high in spite of the Coronavirus pandemic, almost the best turnout ever, with 88.42% of registered voters turning out to vote in Bolivia and abroad, and 89.79% participation within Bolivia itself.  Older people, assisted by their younger family members were a common sight in the streets as they made their way, some with difficulty, to the polling stations.

Three candidates had stood down by the time of the elections to encourage people to use their vote tactically: these were  Jeanine Añez, current de facto interim president for Juntos, Jorge ‘Tuto’ Quiroga for Libre 21, and María de la Cruz Bayá for ADN.  They had urged their supporters to vote against the MAS.  Having not achieved the necessary 3% of the vote, both Frente para la Victoria and Pan-Bol are now likely to lose their legal status.

At departmental level, these were the final results:

CandidateLa PazCocha-bambaSanta CruzChuqui-sacaOruroPotosíTarijaBeniPando
Arce68.3665.9036.2149.0662.9457.6141.6234.7245.8
Mesa28.5831.6817.3245.9933.0235.8550.2439.1725.89
Camacho 1.1445.072.24 2.795.3523.7026.22
Chi Hyun Chung1.69   2.13    

In comparison with fast count estimates given in our 19 October Special Bulletin, the main differences are 1) the higher level of votes for the MAS than predicted, 2) Arce’s win in Chuquisaca over Mesa, and 3) the second place gained by Camacho in Pando.  Arce therefore won in six departments, Mesa in two (Tarija and Beni) and Camacho in Santa Cruz.

Representation in the Plurinational Legislative Assembly

The MAS majority in the new Legislative Assembly (ALP) is essential in order to allow good coordination and achieve the necessary conditions for governance.  This is how the Assembly will look:

                Senate (total of 36 seats)

MASComunidad CiudadanaCreemos
21114

                Deputies (total of 130 seats)

MASComunidad CiudadanaCreemos
753916

The distribution of deputies is divided between plurinacionales, that is deputies voted at departmental level according to party slates and which depend on votes given to presidential candidates, and uninominales who represent local constituencies.  There are also seven ‘special’ indigenous constituencies.

The 130 seats in the Chamber of Deputies are divided up as follows:

 MASComunidad CiudadanaCreemos
Plurinacionales26286
Uninominales421110
Indigenous people’s seats7
Totals:753916

For the first time, the number of women in the Assembly has surpassed that of men, with 20 women and 16 men in the Senate (55.5%) and 46.9% of women in the Chamber of Deputies, making an overall total of 51.9%.

Whilst the MAS has won a majority of seats in both chambers, it no longer has a two-thirds majority.  This means it will have to negotiate with the other two parties to ensure passage of certain laws requiring a two-thirds vote.  The two-thirds majority in the ALP was one of the points of contention on the part of the opposition to the MAS during the last period.

Why the MAS got this high vote

Winning 55.10% of the vote is a remarkable feat that took many analysts by surprise.  Many of these appear to have accepted the narrative that Mesa would win on a second round.  The large number of people who were apparently undecided before the election should have given them pause for thought.

These are some of the reasons why people voted in such numbers for the MAS:

  • The coup of October-November that followed the 2019 elections frustrated not only those whose votes had been disregarded but also those who questioned the golpista and anti-MAS stance of several political leaders.  Both Mesa’s and Camacho´s representatives had been present in the small group that decided Añez should be named interim president.
  • The authoritarian approach adopted by the de facto interim government, which refused to be called to account for the massacres that took place in Sacaba, (Cochabamba) and in Senkata (El Alto).
  • Mismanagement and corruption in response to Covid-19.  The government showed incapacity in dealing with the virus notwithstanding some three months of complete lockdown.  It showed incompetence in the purchase of ventilators and other necessary equipment. 
  • The divisions within the anti-MAS camp in failing to construct a united front with clear proposals in both the 2019 and 2020 elections.
  • Nostalgia among a good part of the population for the stability achieved under the governments of Evo Morales.  Indigenous peoples were included and poorer sectors of the population received material benefit.  The MAS government produced loyalty among a large swathe of the population that benefited from its policies. 
  • The increase in the MAS vote is partly due to support from the middle classes.  At this stage it is not clear if they came predominantly from the 3 million-odd people who joined the middle classes during Morales’ governments, or from the traditional middle class, largely disenchanted at being side-lined from power.
  • People turned out to take part in a vote that they wanted to be decisive.  They wanted their voice heard.
  • Arce as candidate – new blood in the leadership, and with his experience in running  Bolivia’s economy – brought some people back to support the MAS.  The MAS took the campaign to the people, rather than depending on social media alone.

Following up on the accusations of fraud in the 2019 elections

The Argentina-based institution CELAG has carried out a study of the 86 places where the OAS had questioned the high vote for the MAS in the 2019 elections which helped substantiate its declaration of fraud.  The study compares the votes won in the 2019 and 2020 elections in these places, with the votes either similar or more in 2020. 

This adds to other studies which have suggested that the call for fraud in the 2019 elections was itself seriously flawed, further questioning the position taken by the OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro.  CELAG amongst others (e.g. both Morales and Arce) have called for Almagro’s resignation, given his involvement in the country’s affairs.

First proposals of the new government

Though keeping his cards close to his chest, there are several pointers as to the direction that Arce’s government will take. 

In the political sphere, it will seek to reduce the polarisation that has arisen over the last year or more, ending the Añez’s government recourse to widespread persecution and the violation of both human rights and freedom of speech. 

On the economic front, the government is likely to return to the kind of measures that proved successful in the past, seeking to reactivate internal demand and making this the motor of the economy.  Arce suggested this in an interview with the La Razón newspaper.  Restoring levels of public investment and the allowances to different sections of the population are likely to play a part in this.  Measures may be taken to strengthen state companies which, in the best of cases, have suffered from the economic downturn, and in the worst, from unfair competition (BOA) and from plant closure (the urea plant in Cochabamba).  Infrastructural projects that were underway at the time of the coup will need to be completed.  The MAS campaign emphasised the industrialisation of natural resources, particularly in import substitution.  Arce has also spoken of reducing VAT and imposing a tax on the very rich.  He will inherit a large fiscal deficit.

Santa Cruz and Cochabamba, raising the political temperature

Following on from earlier reports of actions by irregular groups (and possibly groups of mercenaries), the days since the elections have been marred by movements by members of the ‘operational’ wings of some civic committees, such as the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista and the Resistencia Juvenil Cochala, whipping up political unrest to prepare the ground for another military intervention.

Vigils by so-called autoconvocados took place outside the departmental electoral tribunals in Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, Oruro and Chuquisaca, calling on people to ignore the results of the elections.  They were initially supported by Rómulo Calvo, president of the Santa Cruz civic committee (Comité Pro Santa Cruz) and the right-wing candidate Camacho.  A meeting in Santa Cruz of the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista on 22 October called for an indefinite general strike against the election results as of 24 October.  Calvo thereafter said the Comité Pro Santa Cruz  would not be calling for people to join the strike owing to the economic problems that the population is facing.  However, since then there have been calls from retired military officers, involved in such civic movements, for people to support a “civic-military-police (and campesino)” coup.

Meanwhile, Añez reinstated Interior Minister Arturo Murillo, one of her government’s most hard-line figures, having  been forced to dismiss him by the Legislative Assembly.  The current Assembly is looking into the massacres in Sacaba and Senkata.  In view of accusations of corruption too, members of the interim government are worried that they will be called to account.