Wednesday July 06, 2022

Why Morales lost

November 28, 2019

Morales and his party’s apparent disregard for the constitution undoubtedly played a role in creating the circumstances for the illegal confiscation of Bolivia’s presidency by the right. But at the heart of Bolivia’s current dilemma is a problem that is much bigger than any single president or political party: a weak political infrastructure.

In a presidential system, division of powers is essential to provide the needed checks and balances, particularly on the executive branch. In countries, like Bolivia, dependence on an extractive economy leaves governments particularly vulnerable to outside interference.

Bolivia has never had much of an independent, or even functional, judiciary that could keep checks on the president. And with the legislature being controlled by Morales’s own party, there was limited institutional oversight of the actions of the president.

The executive’s control over the legislature is not a malfunction that is specific to the Morales government. Bolivia has never had strong political parties that could keep their leaders in check. In fact, political parties in Bolivia are usually built around particular personalities and ebb and flow with their rise and fall from power.

A transfer of leadership within a major political party has happened once in Bolivia’s modern history and that was in 1956 when the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement founder Victor Paz Estenssoro passed the baton on to Hernan Siles Zuazo.

While this history does not excuse Morales’s insistence on holding onto power, it helps to explain how a party like MAS that started off as the political arm of a peasant movement gradually became an extension of its powerful leader.

International organisations and foreign states also played a role in Bolivia’s meltdown. From Brazil to the US, right-wing governments throughout the region have worked to unseat the left’s last man standing in Latin America. But the Organization of American States (OAS), which receives 60 percent of its budget from the US, played a particularly troubling role in Morales’s downfall.

Luis Almagro, the Uruguayan head of the 35-member organisation, gave Morales the green light in 2016 to run for a fourth term, enraging Bolivia’s opposition and puzzling many analysts. But when the vote went forward some three years later, and Morales came out as the clear frontrunner, his organisation rapidly issued a statement casting doubt on the integrity of the elections.

The organisation’s “preliminary” report suggesting “serious irregularities” was instrumental in the rapid-fire process that led to Morales’s resignation. Some analysts who examined this report have raised questions about how much actual fraud there was. A final report that was supposed to be published some two weeks ago, has not yet materialised.

Although the events of the past month have changed Bolivia’s political landscape drastically, there is little doubt that MAS remains the largest political force in the country. Fraud or no fraud, it garnered significantly more votes than its nearest rival.

The future of the country is now dependent on MAS remembering the reasons behind its founding over 20 years ago and reconstituting itself as a party that fights for the interests of the majority of Bolivians and not the political future of a single charismatic leader.

Excerpted from: ‘How and why Evo Morales lost in Bolivia’.