Mateo Rosales Leygue is lawyer and Máster in Gobierno, Liderazgo y Gestión Pública by Instituto Atlántico de Gobierno
On Sunday, January 27, primary elections were held in Bolivia for the October elections. An unprecedented process in Bolivia that has sparked debate in many countries around the idea of modernizing democracy that seeks, among other things, to generate participation within the ranks and militancy, and encourage competition between the cadres of political parties and their candidates. However, President Evo Morales’s idea about this process of participation was a different one.
The new law of political organizations that integrates the primary elections, approved quickly in September 2018, establishes that only the militants of the political parties can participate in the primaries, returning to the old idea of partidization of democracy of the 90's, and excluding the rest of the electoral roll that is not registered in a political party. In addition, it establishes that only the political organizations previously registered in the Electoral Tribunal, as well as those that obtain the juridical status granted by the same Tribunal 65 days before the day of the celebration of the primaries, can be subject of this procedure. This requirement left out of play the platforms and citizen collectives with political vocation that during the last months had been the channelers of the civic demand in protest against the intention of Evo Morales to refuel the presidential mandate indefinitely and in defence of the result of the referendum of February 21, 2016. This result reaffirmed the prohibition on presidential re-election limited to two consecutive five-year terms in the Bolivian Constitution.
The initial idea of the law on political organizations was to promote a new paradigm in the organization of political parties and in the Bolivian electoral scenario that resolves formal issues in the party structure, such as internal competition and participation, as well as to promote an electoral system according to the new needs that the institution urgently requires. This was stated by the magistrates of the Electoral Tribunal until, having detected the authoritarian intentions of the central government to impose a model law in accordance with their own aspirations, they chose to yield to the threats of the government and conclude the task in accordance with the provisions of the hegemonic party, or resign, as finally happened with the president of the Tribunal and other members.
The primaries, therefore, turned out to be a political strategy of the government of the Movement towards Socialism (MAS), whose objective was not the modernization of the electoral institution nor of the internal processes within the political parties. On the contrary, the primaries were intended to be a tool to give a nuance of legitimacy to a candidacy that violates the Constitution and that is supported by an illegal and contradictory sentence of the Constitutional Court, whose actions are subordinated to the interests and orders of the authoritarian government. What MAS tried to do through this process was to leave a trail of support from its bases, as opposed to the opposition parties –which do not have the necessary organic or structural strength– that would help it to legitimize itself and to concatenate forces that could be effective until October. It is thus not surprising that the Bolivian president said when he handed over the lists of militants to the Electoral Tribunal last October, with his infallible mythomaniac tone in the middle of an almost fictitious rally of followers who mobilize through the imposition or coercion of their leaders: “Seeing the new data, the MAS is the largest political movement in the history of Bolivia.”
However, the final result of the primaries exposes a different and enlightening reality. Believing itself omnipotent, the government of Evo Morales did not measure the consequences of its unleashed institutional intervention and its manifest disaffection with the citizens. Only 37 percent of the total militants of the Movement Toward Socialism gave Evo Morales their approval to participate in the October elections. The absence in the vote of more than 60 percent of the MAS militants demonstrates the internal crisis in which Evo Morales' party is plunged, and his increasingly questioned leadership evidences the weakness of the government in the face of citizen mobilization, exposing a reality that is the subject of daily discussion among Bolivians: the serious crisis of the institutional system that reigns in Bolivia.
Although there are sufficient legal reasons to disqualify the binomial composed by Evo Morales-Álvaro García Linera, the Electoral Tribunal, which appeals to the interests of the government's ruling class, has decided to opt for its ideological bias and omit the correct application of the law. For its part, the Constitutional Court, following its November 2017 ruling authorizing the MAS binomial for the October elections, despite the results of the February 2016 referendum, has been side-lined. However, although there are no guarantees in the legal and constitutional spheres, citizen mobilisation around the defence of the result of the 2016 referendum persists and is increasingly forceful.
The result of the primaries, far from showing the strength of which the MAS leaders boast so much, evidences the weakening of a regime that has completely lost the trust of the people. The MAS has gone from being the hope to which many Bolivians clung at the time, to being the party that promotes and reproduces the worst of a decadent regime: authoritarianism, persecution and corruption.
There is no doubt that the attempt to consolidate authoritarianism in Bolivia is in its final phase. The recipe is not new. The Cuban, Venezuelan and Nicaraguan cases are sufficient evidence for Bolivians to opt for a timely exit, before Evo Morales’s authoritarianism ends up extinguishing the remnants of democracy and freedom that remain in Bolivia.
In 2019, a new opportunity for institutional recovery emerges. The constant and forceful mobilization added to the political participation can guarantee the exit of the regime and a transition that proposes a new idea of country, pondering the principles and values of freedom that all democratic states need. Only with the unity and participation of all will it be possible to move from the prevailing authoritarianism in Bolivia to a democratic State.