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Bolivia's Regional Elections: A Setback for Evo Morales

April 08, 2010

Evo Morales suffered a significant setback. That’s the simplest way to interpret the results from Bolivia’s regional and municipal elections on April 4. Nonetheless, he was quick to emphasize that his party had achieved significant gains. But this came on the heels of a press conference by Juan Del Granado, the outgoing mayor of La Paz, and Luis Revilla, the new mayor-elect, celebrating the triumph of their party (Movimiento sin Miedo-MSM) in a tough race in the capital city. Only four months ago, Del Granado had stood beside Morales, celebrating his ally’s re-election. Their recent, bitter split defines the new conflicts in Morales’ Bolivia.

Morales had good reason to celebrate the gains of his Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party. MAS candidates placed first in five of nine governors races, and the party’s candidate in Pando looks likely to edge out his chief rival. Even though runoff contests will likely be required in the departments of La Paz and Pando, this is better than the three prefectures (autonomy provisions in the new constitution replace “prefects” with “governors”) MAS won in 2005. Likewise, MAS did better overall in municipal contests than it did in 2004, increasing its representation in key cities like La Paz and Santa Cruz.

But these advances—falling far short of government expectations, particularly so soon after sweeping victories in December—led to finger pointing. A day after the vote Morales admitted that he had expected a better showing and placed much of the blame on local party leaders. Others blamed the party hierarchy for selecting unknown candidates or, in some cases, even overruling by dedazo (force) the candidate selections of its grassroots, base organizations—a critical misstep for a party that defines itself as a “bottom-up” political movement.

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Miguel Centellas is Croft Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Mississippi. His research focuses on the effects of instituional reform on electoral politics in Bolivia.