Bolivia: Local Elections Bring Surprises, Opposition from Left

Article excerpt

By Andres Gaudin

Bolivia is in a strange situation. As the government and the opposition see it, both have a reason to celebrate the results of the April 4 departmental and municipal elections. After President Evo Morales' overwhelming re-election victory (64.2%) last December (see NotiSur, 2009-12-18), everything indicated--and analysts, political commentators, and polls concurred--that the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) would again sweep to victory. That did not happen. While the governing party won the governorship in six of the nine departments (up from three in the 2005 elections), it lost in most cities, including La Paz, the capital and an impregnable MAS bastion until April 4.

Despite the disappointing results, and despite the schism within the party that led to its defeat in the capital and the birth of a moderate-left party, the Movimiento sin Miedo (MSM), the government can celebrate. And, paradoxically, the old rightist opposition can also celebrate because, with the presidential election as backdrop, it was prepared for a MAS gale that would shake it to its foundations throughout the country, and it nevertheless held its own.

The need to get along and, above all, the certainty that there were no great winners despite all the celebrating, made both sides initially give measured reactions. "Perhaps, everyone seems willing to embark on a civilized coexistence," said a radio commentator sarcastically.

Breakthrough in relations between government, opposition

It is clear that, following the elections, both the president and his staunchest detractors--the three rightist, secessionist governors of the rich eastern departments--exchanged proposals to begin to work together.

Despite having all the economic power in the country--the best lands, gas, iron, such industry as exists, and oil--leaders of the eastern departments know that there is neither a unified opposition in Bolivia nor the possibility that all opposition sectors will join forces.

"Even before April 4 it was clear that the opposition in Bolivia was a conglomeration of voices, there was no single, binding force but rather a number of opponents incapable of coordinating actions or submitting to a unified leadership," said political analyst Roger Tuero in statements quoted by Radio Nederland. "In Bolivia there is no political opposition, there are many regional oppositions."

This phenomenon of a scattered opposition had sharpened in the weeks prior to the April 4 elections. Convinced that MAS candidates would win handily throughout the country, in a repeat of the December presidential elections, many front-line leaders who were under judicial investigation opted to illegally leave the country, seeking political asylum or a safe place to hide.

At the same time, the business class that had waged economic war against the government chose to reach an understanding through dialogue and, two weeks before the elections, its principal leaders met with Morales.

After five years without meeting face to face, on March 23 leaders of the Confederacion de Empresarios Privados de Bolivia (CEPB) entered the government palace and, after more than two hours with Morales, left "happy to have broken the ice and opened the doors to a new stage of working together that will benefit everyone," in the words of CEPB president Daniel Sanchez Soliz. He added, "We will soon be ready to invest US$1 billion and create at least 50,000 new jobs in the next five years."

Before giving any details regarding the investments, the CEPB asked for special treatment--"certain perks"--it said, in tax and energy matters and in infrastructure construction, especially roads.

All analyses agreed that the meeting was significant. Suffice it to note that in 2008 Morales had accused the eastern-department opposition of having declared "political war" and the business class of waging "economic warfare" to weaken and topple his government. …