The crisis following the resignation of Bolivian President Carlos Mesa last June was supposed to lead to new presidential elections on December 4 to fill out his term, as called for in the country’s constitution in cases in which the presidents of the two chambers of congress are unable or unwilling to fill out the term. (They declined in the face of a social explosion that was sure to result if either of them became president.) There were also to be congressional elections, notwithstanding that there is nothing in the Bolivian constitution that allows for early congressional elections.
Well, now there may be no elections at all. The main reason is a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal agreeing to a petition filed by interests in Santa Cruz province claiming that the use of an older census as the basis for congressional apportionment would be unconstitutional. The old census would deprive Santa Cruz and other faster growing provinces of representation compared to the newer one.
Evo Morales is the frontrunner for the scheduled December elections, though in Bolivia the president must be elected by a majority of votes (which has not happened since democracy was restored in the 1980s). Failing that, congress selects from the top two. So it is not a sure thing that he would be president even if the elections went ahead and he won the most votes. In fact, as Jim noted previously, it is hard to see Morales getting the congressional support needed to win the presidency, even if he has a strong lead over the second-place candidate.
Still, Morales’s leading the polls surely is why some actorsâ€”notably the Santa Cruz business eliteâ€”would love to find a way to prevent the elections from taking place at all. They must fear the social consequences of seeing an indigenous leader like Morales get 30% or more of the vote, well ahead of any other candidate, yet be deined the presidency by wheeling and dealing in congress. They might rather take their chances on finding a more popular stop-Morales candidate between now and the regular elections of 2007.
Bolivia is so deeply fragmented that I am rather relieved that, up to now, no one from there has called me in to advise them on how to craft a constitution to help govern the place. I honestly do not know how one could solve these problems, even if one could be the hypothetical Lawgiver handing down the “ideal” institutions. For Bolivia, it is simply not clear what those might be.
Finally, suppose Morales were to become president, perhaps because the combination of a strong plurality and pressure from the social movements proves too much for the stop-Morales forces to overcome. It is worth noting that the very fragmentation of the country that I mentioned above makes some folks’ nightmare scenario of a third member of an Axis of Marxism pretty outlandish. The allusion is to Fidel Castro and Hugo ChÃ¡vez, of course, and it is worth noting that ChÃ¡vez won a huge majority of the vote in Venezuela’s 1998 election and was himself a former army officer who had created revolutionary cells inside the army. That is, he had advantages in turning his election into a “revolution” that Morales simply would not have. In his favor, Morales has a more demonstrated ability to bring out mass protesters than ChÃ¡vez had before coming to power. But I can’t see how he would assemble the degree of institutional power necessary to generate a revolution like ChÃ¡vez might be said to have pulled off. Morales would be a weak president (like all Bolivian presidents) and would be ousted in a right-wing military coup if he tried to assert himself and rule on the shoulders of the mass movement. In fact, a potential coupâ€”and the mass repression that would resultâ€”and not any chimerical Axis of Marxisim, is what is really scary about the Bolivian crisis.