Bolivia’s leadership team of President Evo Morales and Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera won another overwhelming, if this time unsurprising, victory in national elections on October 12. Their Movement toward Socialism (MAS) party took two thirds majorities in both houses of the Bolivia’s Legislative Assembly, thus ensuring support for any constitutional amendments to be advanced by the government.
Non-official estimates place Morales’ plurality at 60.5 percent. Almost 89 per cent of eligible citizens voted. MAS now controls 24 of 36 Senate seats and 80 of 130 seats in the House of Deputies. Conservative presidential candidates Samuel Doria Media and Jorge Quiroga, a former president, followed in the polls with 25.1 and 9.6 percent of the votes, respectively.
Morales’ new term, his second under the Bolivian constitution ratified in 2009, runs from 2015 to 2020. When he won his first presidential election in late 2005, Morales became the first indigenous president of Bolivia, a majority indigenous nation. All his victory margins have been large enough for his MAS party not to have had to deal with second round voting.
The day after the elections, well-known Argentinian political writer Atilio Boron explained that, “Evo is the parting of the waters in Bolivian history; there is a Bolivia before his government and another one, different and better, ever since his arrival at [Bolivia’s Government Palace] (…) This new Bolivia [thus] definitively buried the other: colonial racist, elitist, that nothing or no one could resuscitate.”
The Morales victory extended to eight out of nine Bolivian departments (states), a marked change since 2009 when a rightwing separatist upsurge, anti-Morales to its core, was flourishing in four eastern departments. This year even Santa Cruz, epicenter of that rebellion, registered support for Morales.
Morales’ election victory took place in conjunction with a remarkable increase in resources now available to the Bolivian people as the result of a burgeoning economy. Analysts disagree on the extent to which economic growth accounts for the now firm MAS hold on power, but there is consensus that, more than anything else, it derives from the government’s nationalization of natural gas and oil production in 2006. Before, transnational corporations controlled 82 percent of production. Now that same amount, more or less, remains in state hands.
The data are striking. The gross national product rose from $9.5 billion in 2005 to $30.4 billion in 2013, with average GDP per capita moving from $1,010 annually to $2,757 over the same period. International cash reserves grew from $1.7 billion in 2005, to $14.3 billion in 2013. Bolivia’s most recent 47 percent ratio of international reserves to GDP is the highest in Latin America.
Extreme poverty fell from 39 percent in 2005 to 18 percent in 2013; the minimum salary rose from $72 monthly to $206 per month. Bolivia’s unemployment rate is the lowest in Latin America. Total pubic investment in infrastructure, production development, and social resources has moved from $600 million in 2005 to $4.5 billion at present.
Speaking before multitudes of supporters in La Paz after the voting, President Morales reminded Bolivians of his government’s plans “to convert Bolivia into an energy center for the region.” The government envisions a massive increase in exports of both electricity and hydrocarbon products. A nuclear energy program is contemplated.
Observers say Morales’ election victory marks the transition of the MAS party from its roots in traditional left activism to its current make-up primarily of social movements. This metamorphosis involves surprising new affiliations, reports Bolpress.com; “MAS now includes former members of fascist movement shock teams and opposition propagandists who now don’t lose the opportunity – if they have it – to have photos taken with Morales, whom they refer to as “my president.”
In his remarks to supporters, President Morales declared, “Here two models have been debated: privatization and nationalization. Nationalization won. (…) Only we, a united and organized people, can show that, ‘Yes, we can!'” He announced that, “In your name this triumph of the Bolivian people is dedicated to all the peoples in Latin America and in the world who struggle against capitalism and against imperialism. This victory is dedicated to Fidel Castro, to Hugo Chavez, may he rest in peace!”
Photo: Bolivia’s President Evo Morales speaks to supporters from the balcony of the presidential palace in La Paz, Oct. 12 At left is Vice President Alvaro Garcia.(AP Photo/Martin Mejia)