Bolivia's Morales Makes Bid for Center-Left

(International Relations and Security Network, 09/09/2005)


Bolivian presidential candidate and leader of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), Evo Morales, is taking steps to win the center-left vote three months ahead of Bolivian presidential elections, scheduled for 4 December.


Sources close to the Morales campaign in Bolivia report that René Joaquin, a presidential candidate supported by the Frente Amplio party and backed by the country's mayors, has dropped out of the race, leaving more votes left of center up for grabs.


Frente Amplio came close to joining Morales and his MAS party before deciding to field its own candidate. Morales presently trails right-wing former president Jorge Quiroga in the polls at some 19 per cent, while Quiroga retains around 22 per cent.


What only months ago was considered an impossibility for the MAS, has now come closer to reality. Now, the question on everyone's mind whether MAS could actually govern if it won the election. Apart from running small rural towns, the party has no real governance track record.


"We know Quiroga can govern," writes Cochabamba-based Jim Shultz, a member of the Democracy Center, in his Blog on Bolivia. "Evo and MAS, on the other hand, is much more of a leap into the great unknown." Comparing Morales to Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva's leftist Workers Party (PT), Shultz argues: "Before Lula captured the presidency, the PT ran some sizeable city and state governments and got the work of governance under their belt before heading the nation. Not so with MAS."


Adam Isacson, Director of Programs for the Center for International Policy, agrees. "Morales wants to prove he can govern," Isacson told ISN Security Watch. "His selection for vice-president candidate will be the key indicator of Evo's movement to the center," he added.


In August, there was talk that Morales might choose Bolivian academic and center-left political thinker Alvaro Garcia Linera as his VP candidate. If that happens, it is quite possible that Morales will position himself to win the middleclass vote he needs to catapult ahead of Quiroga and win the presidential elections with a solid majority.


Meanwhile, Quiroga publicly claimed on 12 August that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was "openly and publicly" supporting Morales. Quiroga may be trying to push Morales' image further to the Left, cornering him in the far-left political field so he can capture more of the votes from the center-left to the center, considered to be Bolivia's middle class.


As two of Bolivia's leading presidential candidates make their move for the center, the fundamental question of governability continues to hound the MAS. Beyond Morales' movement to the center and attempts to prove he is worthy of the presidential position, the larger picture dictates that not one candidate will prove himself worthy of a strong mandate from Bolivian voters.


In the last elections - won by since-ousted president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada - the Bolivian Congress chose the president through a largely unorganized process of wheeling and dealing. Lozada won some 22 per cent of the vote, while Morales trailed by one percentage point. With out a clear majority, the decision fell upon the Congress, who then placed Lozada in office.


Without a popular mandate to govern, Lozada was quickly removed from office, as was his successor, vice-president Carlos Mesa.


"No candidate with less than 25 per cent of the vote will have the mandate necessary to govern," said Isacson.


At its current pace, this election threatens to repeat history and place a president in office who has no mandate to govern. With Bolivia's gas reserves, worth tens of billions, on the line, civil unrest seems likely to erupt again.