September 28, 2015

The ICJ Decision on Whether it has Jurisdiction to Attend Bolivia's Request


On September 11, I asked whether November 24th, the day the ICJ was to issue its first decision on the case brought to court by Bolivia against Chile, was going to be a decisive or fateful day for Bolivia. It turned out to be, against the expectations, the first decision among many.

The court said it rejected Chile's contention about the case not being in the court's jurisdiction. The judges cited the Pact of Bogota (signed in 1948) as giving them jurisdiction.The consequence was, the court also judged in favor of Bolivia to accept the Application filed by the Plurinational State on 24 April 2013. Both decisions were passed by 14 to 2 votes.

It is a first decision because this decision was, to start of, to determine whether the court had authority to accept such a case and to decide whether the case filed by Bolivia was going to be accepted. This was requested by Chile.

This first decision seems to have been an obvious one because, what international court with aspirations to really become an international organ of justice was going to reject such a case? Was it not?

The second decision was a bit more tricky: it seems Bolivia formulated a convincing argument.

If you followed the case, you surely did not miss the resources, efforts and planning that the Bolivian government applied to bring this application to the ICJ. I mean, in the formulation of the application, the government was making use of the full experience of its justice system, but in addition, the efforts were supported by a team of lawyers, historians, political scientists and other professionals from Bolivia and outside. Adding to that was the council of international experts and international lawyers. In addition, the Bolivian government armed a significant international campaign to bring its message to every possible place in the world. The government created an agency (Diremar) dedicated to do this through every conceivable medium, including the effective media in the Internet.

September 11, 2015

September 24: A Decisive or a Fateful Moment for Bolivia?


Thursday, September 24, 2015 at 15 hours (The Hague time) can turn into a fateful moment or remain a first decisive moment for Bolivia. On that day and that hour, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will "deliver its Judgment on the preliminary objection to the jurisdiction of the Court raised by the Republic of Chile in the case concerning the Obligation to Negotiate Access to the Pacific Ocean (Bolivia v. Chile)" [PDF file].

It could be a fateful moment because the finding could severely undermine the efforts Bolivia has been making to, from their perspective, rectify a historic wrong. For it is sure that if the decision is against Bolivian interests, the country will continue to make efforts to bring Chile to a negotiation table. Only, that, if such is the case, those negotiations will not take place on Bolivian terms but rather on Chile's terms. In order for those negotiations to take place on Bolivian terms, a favorable judgement by the ICJ is imperative.

However, it could also be a first decisive moment, if the judgement is favorable to the Bolivian cause. That being the case, it is pretty much for sure Bolivia will continue the process. The difference would be that the country would have gained international recognition and, yes, some significant support for its cause. Of course, that does not mean Chile will capitulate. On the contrary, the issue is more than likely to continue in other instances.

So let's wait until the judgement is delivered and then we can keep speculating how will this process go on.

August 24, 2015

The Lithium Dilemma for Bolivia


The Morales government has been continuing its plans to develop Bolivia in economic terms based on the extraction of natural resources. One of its latest objectives has been to add the mineral Lithium to the resource list, which includes gold, silver, soy, wood and, most of all, natural gas. That is because, the Salar de Uyuni, a salt-flat some 10 thousand square kilometers large located south-west in the Potosi department and near the Andes, is considered by the government the next significant source of wealth for the country. This gigantic area, roughly the size of Connecticut, has the potential to be one of the largest lithium-producing areas in the world, and that is very tempting for the Bolivian government.

For that reason alone, the Bolivian government is planning to invest, with the help of its Central Bank, some 925 million dollars by 2019, in the hopes to develop an industry capable to meet the world demand for lithium due to growth in the car and electronics industries. In few words, Morales pretends to turn Bolivia the first supplier of lithium based batteries for the world.

However, in light of the slow pace of Bolivia's industry pretensions (presumably until 2019), the rapid pace of technology developments (including in the area of battery development), the interest of the different industries that use this kind of batteries to come up with an alternative to lithium batteries and, not to forget, the dangers of lithium batteries, it is important to question whether the strategic plans of the Bolivian government are well founded. After all, it would be senseless to invest so much money in creating an industry from scratch to only see it become obsolete before recovering at least the investment.

The Bolivian government places its hopes (and at this point one cannot say more than that) on the, at the moment, insatiable demand for lithium batteries around the world. And that, is not that crazy. At the moment, li-ion batteries are being used in practically every mobile device thinkable, laptops, tablets, cellphones, etc. The advantages are well known: lots of power, reasonable rechargeable times and relatively long-life. To that, one has to consider the use of these batteries in the auto industry. Many car makers are already using li-ion batteries to power their hybrid or electric cars. The plans, in fact, are the increase the use of such batteries and the increase in the production of such cars. Many governments, in their efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and meet their self set emissions targets, are actively funding the increase production of e-cars.

In light of that, it seems a good idea for the Bolivian government to bet for the development of an industry that may have significant prospects. This would make even more sense if we consider the amount of lithium available in the Salar de Uyuni and that lithium itself is not that wide-spread as other resources around the world. 

However, is the future of li-ion batteries assured? Above all, is the demand for such batteries assured? Will they be replaced by another invention? (one that might already be in the works?). The short answer to the last questions seems to be, yes, there are alternatives being worked on. One in particular seems to be very promising: aluminium based batteries.

There are several reasons why has the industry been thinking about developing alternatives to li-ion batteries. The most significant of these has been its tendency to catch fire. There have been numerous reports of such batteries catching fire or even exploding. Other reasons are their not so efficient charge time and their relatively insufficient life-spans. In fact, the industry (in this case the battery industry) has been long seeking other alternatives, but none has been more promising as the aluminium alternative. These batteries have been cheap to produce, they take short times to recharge and presented low levels of risk (as compared with the li-ion batteries). The only caveat has been the relatively low levels of energy they produce. However, the industry seems to be paying a lot of attention to the development of a viable alternative to li-ion batteries.

In conclusion, while it might seem, at the moment, a good idea for Bolivia to develop a lithium battery industry, the future of li-ion batteries looks very uncertain. If the industry is actively seeking for alternatives, the long-term future for those Bolivian plans seem not to be so good. They would only make sense if Bolivia starts producing such batteries as soon as possible. That would mean, the development process would need to be sped up a great deal.

June 02, 2015

Subnational Elections 2015: The Results and Their Implications


The sub-national elections in Bolivia took part a while ago, but as I mentioned in a prior post, the results were not ready until a couple of runoff elections took place, in Beni and Tarija. Well the elections took place and the official results were published in the Plurinational Electoral Organ's web site here. However, these are only the raw results. A look at them will say very little about the political implications. Therefore, here is an attempt to make those results more understandable and accessible.

First of all, it is important to clarify the fact that sub-national elections are those elections at the departmental and municipal levels of government. Let's remember the national elections took place in 2014. Since the Bolivian system is becoming more and more similar to a federal system and therefore difficult to understand, it is more and more difficult to see the political significance of those elections. Above all, there is little information out there trying to explain the Bolivian system.

What you will see below are the results, taken directly from the electoral agency and formatted in an understandable manner to better show who won and what the distribution of power is at the sub-national level. The distribution of seats for seven departmental assemblies are my own work following the system of distribution given by law.

Races for Governor:

The following table shows the results for the Governor races in every department. It shows the winning party or political organization, the percentage of the votes with which these organizations and the candidates won and the last names of the new Governors.

BeniCochabambaChuquisaca*La PazOruroPandoPotosiSanta CruzTarija
*Chuquisaca's results were inconclusive because the difference between the first runner up and the second was less than 10 per cent, however the electoral office later nullified the opposition's votes and therefore this way favored the incumbent who did not have to go to a run-off. Here is the video.

The following comments give the full name of the new Governors and some commentary about them.

- Santa Cruz remains a strong-hold of the opposition with Ruben Costas siting firm on the Governor's chair.

- Tarija shows it remains a contested region with a new comer, Adrian Oliva.

- La Paz boasts a not so surprising turn-around from MAS towards a not so MAS-supporting citizen organization led by Felix Patzi, a former MAS militant from the indigenist wing who has become a critic of Morales accusing him of betraying the indigenous wing of the political instrument MAS.

- Cochabamba elected Ivan Canelas, a former journalist and MAS sympathizer.

- Oruro elected Victor Hugo Vasquez.

- Potosi elected Juan Carlos Cejas

- The new Governors of Oruro  and Potosi respectively, won the races with comfortable margins of between 54 and 60 per cent. No surprises here.

- Pando elected MAS candidate Luis Adolfo Flores who won the race with over 64 per cent. That is surprising because Pando used to be an opposition strong-hold.

- Chuquisaca elected Esteban Urquizo and Beni Alex Ferrier. In these two departments the margin of victory is very close. However, while in Beni seems to be already clear, in Chuquisaca seems to be somewhat problematic.

Departmental Assembly seat distribution:

The following graph shows the seat distribution in each departmental assembly.

Source: Own elaboration with data from the Bolivian electoral agency. All errors are my own. Note: The Tarija and Pando results have not been calculated for reasons of system complexity and lack of data. Click on the image for a larger view.
The distribution of power:

Regarding the Governor races, MAS governs now in six of the nine departments. When we compare these results to the last elections in 2010, the situation for MAS is about the same. However, during the period 2010 - 2015, the MAS was able to increase its control of the departmental governments to 8 of the 9 governments through different legal strategies.

Looking at the percentage results, almost all departments where the MAS candidate won (with the exception of Beni and Chuquisaca) present a relative comfortable lead with percentages between 57 and 66 percentage points. This could be interpreted as an advantage for the MAS because of the relative wide support for the Governor candidates. However, we have to think about the power distribution in each assembly because, as much as any other federal system, the departmental assemblies have a lot to say and if the Governor does not command majorities there, it can be very difficult for them to make policy.

For Beni and Chuquisaca, with respective percentages of 50 and 49 percent, the lead is not comfortable, but is a lead and according to the Bolivian system, it is enough to claim the win. However, it should be highlighted that at least half of the people there voted for an opponent.

It is interesting that in La Paz, a former MAS-dominated department, now governs the Sovereignty and Liberty ( citizens group. This situation should be a warning to the MAS and they should be analyzing this situation very carefully. To lose a MAS-dominated department like La Paz should be really worrisome for the MAS and Morales. In addition, Santa Cruz is interesting because in spite of the many efforts (also significant governmental resources invested) from the part of the government to gain support in the department, the Democratas citizens group has been able to win in an overwhelming manner. Once again, Santa Cruz has shown it is the strong hold of the opposition and will remain that in the near future. In similar terms, Tarija has been able to show it is the other pole within the opposition giving its support to the Autonomist Departmental Unity (UD-A). These observations suggest a slight loss of influence by the MAS. For one, the inability to hold support where the support was overwhelming before as well as the inability of the MAS to gain influence in Santa Cruz, much the same way they did this in Pando and Beni.

Notwithstanding, the relative clarity with which the governor candidates have won their races, while important, it is not decisive. As we know, each one of the departments has a full government and to this government the assemblies have a very important role. In that manner, the distribution of seats within each assembly and the ensuing distribution of power is also important for the ability of the Governor to govern and for his party to pass laws.

In that respect, and at a firs look, the results for Governor elections also show a hint of weakness for the government party. It seems the MAS is losing ground and the opposition is finally arriving, albeit not in a coordinated manner. This statement is based on the fact that from the 8 MAS-dominated governorships, now 6 are left. In addition, if we look at the distribution of seats within each assembly, the situation of the MAS changes.

In Chuquisaca, for example, Urquizo (MAS) won the race with a small margin but if we consider that the MAS controls 15 of the 21 seats we can say that he will have a pretty easy time making policy. To that, if we add the two indigenous seats that are reserved for indigenous groups (which has been the norm in prior years), the MAS-faction will control 17 of the 21 seats. That is a comfortable position to be in.

In Cochabamba, Canelas (MAS) won the race with a comfortable margin. In addition to that, the MAS controls now 26 of the 34 seats in the assembly. Counting the 2 indegenous seats, the MAS-faction controls 28 of the 34 seats. This is another comfortable majority for the MAS. Now while it is difficult to imagine the Democratas faction supporting MAS, it is not so unimaginable to speculate that the member representing the citizen organization Unico in the assembly may decide to vote with MAS some times. It has happened often in prior situations, not only in Cochabamba but in other departments and even at the national level.

In Oruro, Vazquez (MAS) can look to a very favorable environment. The MAS has gained 22 of the 33 seats, and the MAS-faction, including the 1 indigenous seats, would then be 23 out of 33. The MAS has a good majority, which could be even more comfortable if the members of UCS and PP decide to go along with the MAS.

In Potosi, Cejas (MAS) can also look forward to a comfortable period. The MAS controls 26 of the 32 seats in the assembly. This time there are not indigenous seats, but the MAS majority does not need any other organization. The opposition here will be difficult.

La Paz represents a special case, not only because it supports now an opposition citizen group but because the candidate elected (Patzi) is a critic of Morales. To that, when we look at the distribution of power within the assembly we realize that MAS has still 25 of the 45 seats. This represents a strong opposition and slight absolute majority. However, Patzi may expect support from his supporters (12), from UN (2) and ASP (1). While this might not be enough, it remains to see who will the indigenous seats support. If we assume the normal case, the MAS will have a comfortable control of the assembly. If we assume the indigenous supporting the organization, which may happen due to a general dissatisfaction with the MAS within the indigenous organizations in La Paz, the situation can be somewhat difficult for the MAS. In such case, the party may even experience some defections (which have happened before). However, for the most part, the MAS can look to a favorable cooperation with Patzi and his organization. The signals have already been sent by Patzi.

In Santa Cruz, Costas (Democratas) can look forward to a comfortable period. The dominant force in the assembly is the Democratas with 17 of the 28 seats. In this case, the indigenous have tended to differ significantly with the MAS and have taken the opposition side. This would mean, if this happened, that the Democratas-faction would control 22 of the 28 seats in the assembly. In any case, the MAS-faction has a moderate size in this assembly. This means, it is not obsolete but it is pretty weak.

In Beni, Ferrier (MAS) has captured what once was a strong hold of the opposition. In addition, MAS has captured 12 of the 28 seats in the assembly. This is the only case of a MAS-captured governorship that has not achieved a majority in the assembly. Therefore, the governing for Ferrier will not be easy or as comfortable as his colleagues in other departments. Also, in the Eastern part of the country or the so called low lands, the indigenous peoples are not as supportive of the government as in the high lands, thus the support of the indigenous seats in the assembly are not assumed to support the MAS. This presents a further problem for Ferrier. Lastly, assuming the opposition unites, i.e. the MNR, Nacer and the indigenous members form a block, they would control 16 of the 28 seats. Once again, this would be a problem for MAS and the Governor. Perhaps, that is the reason why the Governor has already signaled his willingness to work together with the opposition.

Municipalities and Departmental Capitals

The departmental capitals are just one municipality among 339, but because of their visibility and their conditions as departmental capitals are very significant politically.

In the departmental capitals, La Paz, El Alto, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Oruro, Pando, Potosi, Beni, Sucre and Tarija won, respectively, Luis Revilla (SOL.BO), Soledad Chapeton (UN), Jose Leyes (Democratas), Perci Fernandez (SCPC), Edgar Bazan (MCSFA), Luis Ribeiro (PUD), William Cervantes (MAS), Mario Suarez (MNR), Jorge Arcienega (MAS), and Rodrigo Paz (UNIR).

The assemblies for the departmental capitals are composed thus:

Source: Los Tiempos online at
As you can see, Revilla in La Paz, Leyes in Cochabamba, Fernandez in Santa Cruz, Hurtado in Beni and Paz in Tarija have a comfortable majority in the assemblies and can govern with some easiness. Ribeiro in Pando and Arcienega in Chuquisaca have some hurdles due to the even situation within the assembly. In this case, both assemblies and Governors will be dependent on the one vote that will decide the majority. This is, assuming party discipline. In the rest of the departmental capitals, Oruro and Potosi, seems that the assemblies have a multi-party and thus a more difficult situation to build a majority.


While it might seem from the Governor races that MAS has lost influence and support overall, at least when compared to the election before, in reality the party still has a comfortable hold of power within the political system and specially regarding the seat distribution within the departmental assemblies. Particular is only the facts that La Paz has changed preferences, Santa Cruz and Tarija remain strong-holds for the opposition and that there are a couple of not so stable conditions for the MAS in Chuquisaca and Pando.

However, it all points to the MAS and Morales been able to continue with their efforts to implement their agenda. The opposition should be able to gain some support as a result of the government's wearing out in its third government term.

The big discussion now is going to be the re-election question. Will Morales attempt to stay in power beyond of what the constitution "he" and his party wrote allows?

Electoral law 26
Source 1

May 28, 2015

El Escandalo de la FIFA en Relacion con Bolivia


 "... esos paises [los paises que siguen apoyando a Blatter] sufren de todas maneras con problemas endémicos de corrupción ... entonces es pensable que los funcionarios en esas federaciones nacionales sean tambien corruptos..." Eso es lo que dijo la representante de Amnesty International Alemania, Sylvia Schenk, en una entrevista en television alemana, al responder una pregunta sobre como funcionaba el sistema Blatter y como era posible que Blatter se mantenga tan firme en la presidencia de la Federación Internacional de Fútbol Asociados.

Con el escandalo de corrupción que se desató en los últimos días sobre la FIFA, la prensa internacional, y en particular la europea y la americana, han estado cubriendo el desarrollo de la noticia prácticamente las 24 horas del día. Uno de los temas ha sido el entender mejor el sistema que mantiene al Blatter en la punta de la piramide de la federación. Este sistema, asi aclaran diferentes fuentes periodisticas, esta basado en los transferes monetarios que la presidencia de la FIFA hace en beneficio de las federaciones nacionales de fútbol en Africa, Asia y América Latina. Tabién aca esta incluida la Federación Boliviana de Fútbol. Estas federaciones han apoyado y apoyan aún a Blatter sin explicaciones de por que este apoyo incondicional.

Si bien es lamentablemente correcto que corrupción es un problema endémico en muchos paises latinoamericanos, eso no quiere decir que los funcionarios del fútbol boliviano automaticamente puedan ser acusados de corruptos. Si bien teoreticamente puede ser posible hacer esta clase de sugestiones, así tambien se puede suponer que los funcionarios bolivianos no son corruptos, por lo menos hasta que se les haya probado alguna culpabilidad. En estos días, empero, las críticas en contra de la FIFA son ensordecedoras, en Bolivia tambien se hacen oir críticas en contra de la Federación Boliviana de Fútbol. Es más, el presidente boliviano, ávido jugador de fútbol, criticó el manejo del fútbol boliviano y los resultados mediocres que la selección boliviana ha venido mostrando desde su participación en el mundial en Estados Unidos en 1994. El punto de más critica es la intransparencia con la que se maneja el dinero de la federación.

Pero, el problema no son las sugerencias que principalmente vienen de Europa o Norte América, si no el silencio insoportable de las federaciones nacionales, en especial de Sud América, y por ende, en este caso, de la Federación Boliviana de Fútbol. La pregunta que nos tenemos que hacer es, por que callan las federaciones latinoamericanas y en especial la federación boliviana ante semejantes acusaciones? Por que no trata de defenderse, por lo menos denunciando el sistema Blatter o gritando a los cuatro vientos que ellos no son corruptos?

Primeras reacciones de la prensa boliviana:

Pagina siete, comenta que la federación boliviana recibió dinero y la federación misma dice que si recibió dinero pero no fue soborno.

#boliviafutbol, #bolivia, #fifaescandalo, #fifa, #conmebol, #fifacorrupcion

May 08, 2015

Bolivia's Demand Against Chile in the Hague


Since 2013 Bolivia is suing Chile in the International Court of Justice in the Hague regarding the long standing issue of sea access. This has been and still is the most important issue in Bolivia's foreign affairs. While all prior governments have made it an important issue, the Morales government has been the government which has done the most, among other things, take Chile to international court.

After having successfully internationally promoted the issue in different summits and meetings such as the OAS and the UN, Bolivia has created a special agency that has the only task to further support and "promote" this effort through the dissemination of information in different media and to legally support the effort at the Hague, the DIREMAR.This effort has successfully resulted on the acceptance of the demand in the ICJ and the subsequent exchange of arguments.

Here you can read (in PDF), in English, Bolivia's application to the ICJ. Here you can read Chile's objection (Vol I, Vol II, and Vol III) to the application and Bolivia's response to the objection. Here you can go to the case's link to keep up to date.

This May, Bolivia and Chile have been going through the most recent exchange of arguments. Both countries have presented their oral arguments (May 4 and May 6) outlining them before the judges.

However, one thing that attracted my attention was that the case is not about the sovereign sea access of Bolivia, which is the impression you get if you follow the issue through the media. Bolivia has been for a very long time complaining that the lack of sea access has had negative effects on its ability to economically develop. In fact, the issue has inevitably been tied to the issue of poverty in the country. But, not, the issue at hand at the Hague is not sea access per se, but to force Chile to recognize its "obligation to negotiate" with Bolivia over a the issue of sea access.

Bolivia's argument is:
Quite simply, all that Bolivia asks, as stated in its application, is for Chile to fulfill its obligation, to respect its repeated promises, its agreement to negotiate sovereign access to the sea, an agreement independent of the 1904 Treaty.
In effect, Bolivia is suing Chile into accepting negotiations on sea access issue, but that those negotiations include the words "sovereign access", which really means that Chile has to transfer sovereignty of territory to Bolivia. And this is something Chile does not want to do, and will not do, if they seriously mean what they (the Chilean government) have been saying all along.

The question is whether sovereignty is needed in order for Bolivia to have autonomous access to the sea through a Chilean port. Reason might argue it is not needed, unless there are reasons to dispute that reason. Arica has been, until now, the port through which the largest part of Bolivian exports and imports move. The situation was functioning well until Chile privatized the port in 2004 and the conditions changed for Bolivia since 2009 due to the company's rise in prices.

It is going to be without a doubt interesting to follow the decision...

Prior post to this topic

April 30, 2015

Subnational Elections in Bolivia


On March 29, 2015, Bolivia went once again to the ballot box this time to elect sub-national authorities. On that day, the question of distribution of power among the so called autonomous departments and municipalities across the territory was decided.  However, while most states and municipalities have had a clear outcome, there are still some unclear departments in which a second round of elections will be necessary. This second round will happen on May 3, 2015.

However, one thing is already clear from the partial results: namely, the MAS is slowly but surely losing its hegemony, at least at the regional and local level.

The monitoring and figuring out the results is not that easy in Bolivia. But, there are a few things the one who follows this with interest has to pay attention to.

Similar to a federal system, the different levels of governments have a government and an assembly or you might call it a parliament. At the departmental level, the head of government is the Governor (before it was called Prefect). But, the governor also has to pass legislation for his or her department through the scrutiny of the departmental assembly. For that reason, the distribution of power within that assembly is also important. Important is, above all, which parties make it into the assembly, the proportion of votes each party has, the coalition alternatives and who controls the agenda setting mechanisms. Most of all, the different coalition alternatives has proven to be of utmost importance, given the fact that in some particular assemblies coalitions have changed frequently and not always per ideological reasons.

Similar to the departmental levels, the municipal levels of government in the country have a head of government, the Mayor (or in Spanish, the Alcalde) and an elected assembly. The things to pay attention to are the same as in the departmental level. However, here, the possibility of removing the Mayor through a constructive vote of no confidence procedure make the number of parties present in the assembly and the distribution of power among them also important. Not to mention the alternative coalitional possibilities. This has led in the recent past in quite a few municipalities for a very unstable political situation. In addition, added to this situation in the assembly, the role of the vigilance committee (a sort of civil society watch dog with powers to stop the flow of funds to the municipality) has but complicated the political process.

The final results are on the way!

March 05, 2015

Morales' New Cabinet


I have been trying to post each new Morales cabinet to keep a public record. This time, Morales was sworn-in on January 22, 2015 and he appointed his cabinet the day after. It is a mixture of new and old faces. 

Source: Communications Ministry of Bolivia
If you need more information on each person take a look at this website, which has an interactive graph that will tell you who is new and who has been ratified in his post. If you scroll down you will find a short bio of each person.

Also, the Communications Ministry has this page with the same information you see above.

Really, in my opinion, a deeper look on each candidate has not been so useful. The cabinets have been changed periodically and the figures are (or have to be) pretty loyal, otherwise they leave very soon.

The only people worth some time, in my opinion, are the Minister of International Relations, David Choquehuanca, the Minister of the Presidency, Juan Quintana and the Minister of Economy and Public Finances, Luis Arce Catacora. Choquehuanca and Catacora have been in their posts as long as Morales has been in the presidency. Quintana has been as long too, but has changed from the Ministry of Government to the Ministry of the Presidency. Very key ministries and very interesting people. One day I might devote some posts to these people.

Elections 2014: Distribution of Power in National Assembly


Evo Morales and his party MAS were the winners of last year's Bolivian general elections, that much was clear shortly after election day. However, the question on how much power did the MAS acquired this time around has taken a bit longer to clear out. Above all, the government took some time to count the votes, to investigate some allegations of electoral fraud and, finally, to officially publish the list of elected congress members. To that delay, I have to add the fact that I did not have too much time to publish anything in the last months. Nevertheless, I am publishing now these three graphs below which illustrate the power structure in the Bolivian assembly.

The main question has been: How much power does Morales have in congress this time around? Does he have enough support to change the constitution, if he wants to remain in power beyond this term?

This question has already been answered in percentages terms with the publication of the official results, which you can find here. However, just knowing what percentage of the popular vote did Morales and the MAS get does very little to let us imagine the magnitude of support he will be enjoying within the assembly in his last term in office.

To see this, first of all, lets remember the Bolivian Plurinational Legislative Assembly, as is officially named, is made up of both, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The Senate has 36 members and the Chamber of Deputies has 130. The National Assembly is constituted when these both chambers come together, and as such it has a total of 166 members.

Also, lets remember that from what is described in the 2009 Constitution's section about the legislative branch, Bolivia uses the term absolute majority and means the formula 50% + 1. This is how decisions are made in the assembly and this is how laws are passed. At the same time, this would mean the MAS would need to control just one vote more than half the number of each chamber's members.

The graphs below show just how many congressional seats each party controls in each chamber.

To make it explicit, the MAS comfortably controls both chambers. In the Senate, which would require 19 members to have an absolute majority, the MAS has 25 votes. In the lower chamber, which would require 66 votes for an absolute majority, the MAS has 84.

What is more, in an assembly with 166 total members, such as the Bolivian assembly, the government party needs to have 84 members in order to control the passing of legislation. In the graph above, the governing party MAS has 109 members. That is well over the number required to obtain an absolute majority, namely 84 votes.

But, the question about constitutional reform remains. Now, the 2009 constitution states there are two forms of constitutional reform, one is total/substantial and the other is denoted partial reform. The difference lies in the fact that the first type means a change in the character of the constitution, i.e. rights, state form, values, etc. The second type reform can be a minor change, say in the number of terms allowed for the president to stay in office. The first type needs an almost constitutional assembly process where the reform is debated and, in the end, has to be voted on through a referendum. The second type of reform can be initiated by popular initiative or by the national assembly issuing a constitutional reform law. In the end, this reform too, has to be approved by referendum. However, the key factor is this law has to be approved by the two-thirds rule (so called qualified majority) with ONLY all the present members.

Now, if we make some math, the MAS would require to have 111 MAS congress members in a full National Assembly to be able to pass the reform law. As we stand, MAS has 109 and therefore is 2 seats short of a 2/3 majority. However, this should not present a problem because the constitution mentions the word 'present' in the formulation of the text. This means, the MAS has to have support of 2/3 of all the members present at the day of voting. So, 111 is not a magic number, In fact, the magic number depends on the attendance to the assembly on that day.

This seems like a very comfortable situation for the MAS. The hurdles to make a substantial or total change to the constitution are pretty high, but the hurdles to make 'partial' adjustments are not so high.

Now, I said that this picture was already clear as the results came out. However, the graphic illustration of the situation makes it even more clear. Besides, since I did not see such graphics in any other place, I figured I should put them out there.


Now, Bolivia, as many other nations, makes use of the absolute majority concept in order to take decisions in Congress. However, it is important to highlight that in Bolivia (and maybe in the Latin American region), the meaning of absolute majority is different from what we mean in the Western world, and with that I mean pretty much the US and Europe. In this "world", absolute majority is a form of a qualified majority which denotes the use of fractions such as 2/3 to distinguish it from a simple majority which is a majority gained with the formula 50% + 1 vote. Qualified majorities are used to address various reasons, chief among them, to raise the hurdle for more important issues such as the amendment of a constitution.

December 20, 2014

The Issue Between Bolivia and Chile


This is a collection of links on the dispute between Bolivia and Chile about sea access.

The official Chilean video laying out their argument.

This is a documentary produced by DIREMAR, the Bolivian agency in charge of laying out the Bolivian argument.

This is the first of several videos that tell the Peruvian version of the Pacific War.