July 16, 2014

Elections 2014: The First Potential Problems Surface

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The five political alliances taking part in the Bolivian general elections in October 2014 have officially submitted their list of candidates for the legislative to the electoral court. For more on this please see the prior post. This post is about the problems already arising from the submission of such lists.

To start of however, a bit of context. As you know, the Plurinational Bolivian State has a bicameral system with a higher chamber being the Senate and the lower chamber being the Chamber of Deputies. The Senate has a total of 36 seats, with four seats for each of the nine departments. The lower chamber has 130 seats, with half being filled by the proportional representation method and the other half with first-past-the-post method. This, so called, mixed member proportional representation method is seen as the most fair, and not only by Bolivia. 

Having said that, shortly after the different political organizations submitted their lists to the electoral organ, there were already people complaining about the process, in particular about how the lists were filled. The major complain across political organizations seems to be that the lists have been filled not by consensus but by designation of some people in higher posts. That is, for example, one complain within the MAS. One supporter from Santa Cruz complained the names already agreed upon in a locality in Santa Cruz had been changed by two leaders of the MAS. The supporter complained the statutes had been violated because a seniority rule was not respected. An additional complaint was about the number of persons invited to run under the MAS. These people have recently become members of MAS. This means that people who have been in the MAS for a long time and wanted to fill a position were taken out and were replaced by some other person who was recently invited by some MAS leader.

Similar complains echoed within the MSM, whereby this organization does not pretend to principally open up spaces for participation for indigenous people while the MAS does. However, the basic pattern of the problem is the distribution of spaces (in this case candidacy posts) among the various organizations allied. Following this logic, if one organization does not respect what has been agreed upon, the alliance may run the risk of falling apart. The case of the UD, is similar but with one distinction, namely the political group has tended to recycle politicians from the traditional political parties and the MAS renegades. But essentially the distribution of positions in the electoral lists has been the glue keeping together (even the MAS) these alliances.

Two things need to be highlighted when looking at the lists, which you can access in the electoral agency's website. There are a number of family members coming up within the lists of candidates. The most conspicuous are the nephew of Evo Morales and the sister of MSM Vicepresident candidate Adriana Gil, who will run for lower chamber seats. I did not look at the lists careful enough to see other cases of nepotism? but I would not be sure these were the only cases. The second thing to be highlighted is the number of women in the lists. I think Bolivia has made tremendous progress in the area of women representation in leading posts. A news report says women make up 52% of all the candidates in this election. We should add that a significant percent of these have a real chance to being elected because they are incumbents as opposed to just substitutes.

Elections 2014: The Candidates are Set and Official Campaigning can Begin

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This week was the deadline for the citizen groups, which will be disputing the general elections in October 2014, to present their official candidates lists. With the submission of these lists the candidates are set and officially allowed political campaigning can begin.

There are basically five groups or as we might call them political alliances, that will take part in the general elections. The most important is, of course, the current government's alliance Movement Towards Socialism - Instrument for the Peoples Sovereignty (MAS - ISPS). This alliance will be led by Evo Morales and Alvaro Garcia as President and Vicepresident candidates, respectively. This is what in Bolivian politics is known as the official side or in Spanish, partido oficialista.

As it was expected, the opposition could not agree on an alliance capable of making real opposition to the MAS. The result of all the meetings, negotiations and gatherings was the opposition being split into four groups or political alliances. These are: the Movement without Fear (Movimiento Sin Miedo, MSM), which placed Juan del Granado and Adriana Gil as President and Vicepresident candidates; Democratic Unity (Unidad Demócrata, UD), which designated Samuel Doria Medina and Ernesto Suárez as President and Vicepresident candidates; the Green Party of Bolivia (Partido Verde de Bolivia, PVB), which postulated Fernando Vargas and Margoth Soria as President and Vicepresident candidates; and lastly the Christian Democratic Party (Partido Demócrata Cristiano, PDC), which postulated Jorge Quiroga y Tomasa Yarhui as President and Vicepresident candidates. If you want details on these groups take a look at my prior posts about the Elections 2014.

A clear continuation of the trend set in 2002 and confirmed in 2005 is the absence of the so called traditional political parties. I am sure you noticed that when I mentioned the political organizations taking part in the elections I described them as groups or political alliances. The reason is because many if not all traditional political parties have lost credibility in the course of the last decade. That is the reason why politicians now tend to form, more or less, ad hoc political groups or alliances to be able to run for public posts. In the opposition, the only traditional party is the Christian Democratic Party, the rest are alliances. In fact, the most important traditional political parties to date, the MNR and the ADN, are about to lose their accreditation at the electoral court.

So there you go, the political landscape is clear (I hope, this is Bolivia after all), the candidates are nominated, and the campaigns are set to begin, right? Well, for the MAS and other alliances such as the MSM, the campaigns were already open some months ago even though this was illegal. But, heck, what is one more month or less?




June 19, 2014

Citizen Security: Taxi App Registers Taxi Drivers and Promises More Security

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If there is one thing that affects Bolivians in their every day life and foreigners who visit the country is the sense of insecurity felt on the streets, especially at night. While Bolivia overall is, in comparison, a secure country to live in and to visit, the largest cities La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz suffer under a significant degree of insecurity because of crime. Aside from petty crime (pick pocketing, etc.) there are other types of crimes being committed such as violent assaults and robberies. Highly ranked among these are the crimes involving taxis. One example are express kidnappings, where an unsuspecting person stops a taxi, gets in and tells the driver where to go. Some blocks later, other people enter the taxi and with threats take the unsuspecting victim on a ride through various ATMs. The victim must withdraw funds. More often than not, these kidnappings can go on for several days. This is because ATMs have a withdrawal limit per day. Not a fun thing to go through.

That is the reason why security in taking a taxi, for Bolivians and visitors, is a high priority. Until now, people have relied on what Bolivians call, radio taxis. These are taxi companies as we know them in the US and Europe. Taxis work for established companies, which have good reputation and good relations with their customers, such as hotels, restaurants, etc. These companies have a lot to lose if something happens. Therefore, they are pretty safe.

This model of radio taxis has been very successful until now. Actually, I expect it to continue to be for the foreseeable future. However, there are some innovations to tell about. That is, in Bolivia now, more in the largest cities, there are two companies that have launched two apps to introduce themselves in the taxi market. These apps are Easy Taxi and Taxi Seguro (Secure Taxi). The two apps work like an app we already know in the US and Europe. First you download the app and register. Then when you want a taxi, you just tap into call a taxi. For taxi drivers is a bit more complicated because they have to register supplying more information about themselves. Taxi seguro goes a bit further and asks photos of the taxi drivers and their taxis and licence plates. That is because taxi seguro's focus lies on security rather than on other factors.

These two companies are pioneers in the Bolivian market. According to some press reports, they have some degree of acceptance in La Paz and Santa Cruz already.


Source:

Pagina Siete, Feb. 13, 2014

June 11, 2014

Elections 2014: The Opposition to Morales

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On a January 10, 2014 post, I wrote about the possible opposition to Morales for the October 2014 general elections. In that post, I named three alliances/groups/parties that were shaping up to compete in the elections. Today, the newspaper Pagina Siete published an article bringing a bit more clarity on the shape of the opposition.

The report names six political groups/alliances that have been approved by the electoral office to take part in the elections. Nonetheless, the paper casually mentions there are twelve groups officially approved but only mentions the most politically relevant. In my opinion, it would have been interesting to get to know the other groups. For that reason I visited the electoral office's web site but could not find any relevant information. I find that ironic because they do make a point of conducting a transparent process. Well, so much for transparency.

However, we do know, with a bit more certainty (lots can change in Bolivia in very little time), the six most important. Aside from the already mentioned in my post (see link above), Movimiento Sin Miedo, Movimiento Democrata Social, and Frente Amplio, the report mentions the Partido Democrata Cristiano (Christian Democratic Party, led by former president Tuto Quiroga), the Partido Verde de Bolivia (Green Bolivian Party, led by Fernando Vargas), and the Nueva Alternativa Popular (New Popular Alternative, led by Fanny Nina).

May 30, 2014

Current US Policy on Latin America

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Here is a speech from Sec. Kerry about US policy towards Latin America. As usual not very much, but it should serve to give us some idea of the approach towards the region.

May 16, 2014

Elections 2014: The Distribution of Congressional Seats in the Bolivian System

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As I have been posting lately, the electoral process towards the presidential and legislative elections in Bolivia is well on its way. Not only the campaigns are in full swing but the work of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (the entity regulating and organizing the elections) is also progressing steadily. That the work of the SET progresses efficiently and independently is important because that work is the main guarantee for the legitimacy of the results and the stability of the political process. The SET has all the burden on itself.

However, since the advent of Morales into power, the reputation and the work of the SET has been repeatedly questioned by Bolivian observers, mostly the opposition and also by myself. In recent years, there have been many allegations of partiality with the ruling party. This critique was voiced during the last electoral process when the entity was revamping the electoral register, which it turned into a digital one. This time, critics have recently voiced concern about the redistricting efforts for the oncoming elections.

May 14, 2014

Elections 2014: Electoral Manipulation or Mere Organizational Process? Follow up

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The previous post was about how the electoral tribunal allegedly wanted to manipulate the electoral outcome by engaging in voting district manipulation. However, it was about an allegation because the actual redistricting was not yet done, but the media and the opposition were already yelling out foul.

Well, the regulation is out now and it seems the cries were exagerated or they really worked.

The electoral tribunal presented yesterday the newly redrawn voting districts for the 63 single-member deputies that will be elected to the lower chamber. This chamber is made up of those 63 uninominal (in Bolivian jargon) seats, in addition to 60 representatives elected by lists and the 7 special seats reserved for the indigenous peoples.

The adjustment was significant, however. Each of these districts has an assigned ideal number of voters, according to the number of citizens in each department. But, in the previous regulation prior to this last revision, the ideal number was allowed to vary by + or - 35.5 per cent. This meant a significant amount of variation in each district. However, in the last revision, this variation was reduced to + or - 15 per cent.

The most significant result was the loss of one uninominal seat for La Paz, Cochabamba and Oruro each and the gain of one seat for Santa Cruz. That means now that while La Paz had 5, now it has 4 seats only; while Cochabamba had 4, now it has 3; and while Oruro had 3, now it has 2 only. In addition, Santa Cruz went from having 7 to having 8 seats now. Considering that the population in Santa Cruz has increased in the last 11 years and some regions such as Oruro has lost some population, this results are far more in accordance with what had been expected from the new numbers obtained in the last census but far different from what some of last week's critics had imagined.

Last week several regions or departments had said they would mobilize agains any intent to manipulate the electoral outcomes. This week, the reactions are very different. Santa Cruz, after having received an explanation, decided to demobilize. La Paz, on its part, had called for a meeting of social forces for today, which after the publication of the electoral map by the TSE called it off. I am sure it will take a few more days for the other parties to scrutinize the new regulation and the map and to make decisions on whether to mobilize or not. Right now, it seems the problem will pass and the electoral season will go on.

Links:

Pagina Siete article on the issue, May 14, 2014

Erbol article with maps, May 14, 2014

Electoral Tribunal original data, May 14, 2014


May 09, 2014

Elections 2014: Electoral Manipulation or Mere Organizational Process?

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The electoral season is widely open in Bolivia and the government is already in the middle of campaigning towards a third term for the incumbent president Evo Morales. However, according to the opposition and some officials, campaigning is not all the government is doing. Since the advent of the new Plurinational Bolivian State in 2009, the government has been accused of having co-opted many important offices in the Bolivian government.

These days this general accusation is coming back to attention through the problem brewing regarding the coming elections in October and the method of congressional seats distribution. The Supreme Tribunal, the office in charge of carrying out the elections, has made public the methodology it plans to use to distribute the single-member district seats in congress.

In contrast to the previous methodology where the one criteria was the population, that is the proportion of the population to be represented by a single congressmen, the new method will also consider the ideal extension of territory. This means concretely that not only the number of people living in a single electoral district will be taken into account but also the size of the territorial extension of that district. In addition, the new regulation also gives these parameters significant room for variation. They either can get bigger or smaller.

In concrete terms, the opposition sees in this new regulation a new attempt from the part of the government to manipulate the election results in favor of itself. Several newspapers and other media have already alarmed the public with their headlines and some have even made some calculations of some of the possible outcomes. One outcome, according to the Pagina Siete newspaper, can be that the urban districts be reduced or combined into one districts and the number of rural districts to increase. This, would represent a significant advantage for the government because the MAS tends to have more support in the rural areas.

Though the redistricting has not been finished yet, the alarms issued by the media and the opposition are not without some merit. Especially considering that the electoral agency is not considered an independent institution, when in fact it should be.

Sources:
TSE fija margenes amplios para... Pagina Siete
Admiten que el reglamento puede mover circumscripciones ... Los Tiempos
Alerta por nuevo mapa electoral... El Diario

April 30, 2014

Elections 2014: The Date is Set by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal

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The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE in Spanish) in Bolivia has just issued the call for general elections to take place on October 12, 2014 (Sunday). As is always the case for general elections in Bolivia, people will be electing a President, Vice president, Senators, Deputies, and representatives for the Indigenous Seats. New this year is the election of what the government had called supranational representatives, who are usually appointed, but this time will be elected. These representatives hold seats in organizations such as the Andean Parliament, Latin American Parliament, Amazonian Parliament, Indigenous Parliament of America, South American Parliament and the World Parliamentary Union.

January 24, 2014

Morales "Renews" his Cabinet

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Every January 22nd, President Morales and his government celebrate the creation of their Plurinational State. This year was not different. The Bolivian state celebrated its fourth year of its foundation with elaborate and very colorful indigenous ceremonies, solemn speeches reassuring the right path this new state is taking and with the active participation indeed of the social movements. These celebrations take place mainly around the Murillo square, where the legislative and executive have their buildings.

January is also the time for the President to give his state of the nation address (see above below), that is The President speaks about what has been achieved and what needs to be still achieved. This year, Morales spoke four hours to the entire legislative body. In his speech he made sure to recapitulate all projects his government has been able to materialize. In particular he spoke of the achievements his program Bolivia Cambia, Evo Cumple made over these last years. He also highlighted the advances his transfers programs had achieved. Lastly, he particularly mentioned the launching of Bolivia's own Chinese made and monitored communications satellite Tupak Katari. However, particularly interesting was to hear what his government had planned for the next years. For example, Morales announced the entrance of Bolivia in the atomic era. He said Bolivia will work on the development of an atomic plant to produce energy. He did put emphasis on the peaceful intentions. Another announcement that made headlines was the government's plans to give every high school graduate $1000 as an incentive.