Two unofficial counts show MAS-IPSP winning dramatic first-round victory in Bolivian election

Shortly after Luis Arce Catacora confidently predicted his own victory, two major polling firms released their counts of today’s election, both of which projected a 20% margin of victory for the Movement Towards Socialism in an historic election. The current projected margin doubles the largest advantage (10%) estimated by any pre-election poll and is far more than needed for Arce to avoid a runoff. Indeed, they project Arce’s party winning a simple majority of all votes, something it has done in three prior national elections and which no other political party has done since the 1960s.

While data are preliminary, interim president Jeanine Áñez has congratulated her political opponents on their apparent victory:

Second-place finisher Carlos Mesa’s campaign retired from public appearances early in the night and he has not commented on the late-night vote estimates online. Technically the election is his to concede, and that might only come once the official results resemble the unofficial ones.

However, there are now coinciding vote analyses by polling organizations CiesMori and Tu Voto Cuenta:

The regional breakdown published by CiesMori shows just how Arce, VP candidate David Choquehuanca, and the MAS-IPSP pulled off this remarkable comeback: they won by regaining back the votes they lost in the west and Chuquisaca between 2014 and 2019. Here’s a preliminary look at the shifts between those three elections.

Comparing the MAS’s showing in 2019 and 2020 against each other and its last majority victory in 2014.

Again, these figures are preliminary. Tu Voto Cuenta’s departmental results are still being posted to Twitter as I write this, and the official count has barely reached 8% of precincts, but Bolivian politics have taken a very dramatic turn tonight.

Moreover, the bet placed by the hard Right in 2019, that claiming the state and using an interim government to target the MAS-IPSP and sometimes also its base for prosecutions and intimidation would cement a post-MAS political future has failed dramatically. Even before tonight’s results, that was already clear for Bolivia’s hard Right as represented by Jeanine Áñez and Luis Camacho. Now it looks to be true for the anti-MAS coalition as a whole.

Beyond the ballot: Where Bolivia’s main political forces stand after a turbulent year

Bolivians go to the polls on Sunday, October 18, in the long-awaiting re-run of the country’s disputed October 2019 general election. Three weeks of opposition protests, alleging that electoral fraud had provided incumbent president Evo Morales the 10% margin required to avoid a run-off, combined with a nationwide police mutiny to prompt his resignation and flight into exile. While unusually violent clashes between supporters and opponents of Morales led to five deaths prior to his overthrow, the next ten days were even bloodier: 33 people died, at least 25 of them at the hands of the police and military.

The displacement of Evo Morales, the longest-serving president in Bolivia’s history and the winner of three prior elections, from power was a dramatic shift. At the time I laid out the political panorama like this:

In this post, I check in on those four political forces with an emphasis on looking beyond their electoral chances. (For a detailed look at the political parties’ standing in the polls, see: Luis Arce (MAS) leads polls heading into Bolivia’s election… but may struggle to prevent a runoff.)

1. The Movement Towards Socialism–Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples (MAS-IPSP): A troubled plurality

Bolivia’s largest political party, the MAS, remains a formidable political force. While Evo Morales and much of his cabinet is in exile (or holed up in friendly embassies in La Paz), the party designated former finance minister Luis Arce Catacora as its standard bearer for the 2020 elections. Arce and his running David Choquehuanca lead the pack of presidential candidates going into Sunday’s vote, obtaining around the same vote share in current polls and Morales won in 2019.

Arce has focused on economic recovery as his key electoral message, a position already foreshadowed by Evo Morales’ alternative state-of-the-nation address on January 22. Unlike Morales, nominally his “campaign chief,” Arce has shown little enthusiasm for re-litigating the 2019 crisis. Instead he freely reels off lists of economic projects and promises a return to expanding employment. In recent weeks, running mate David Choquehuanca has taken a calculated distance from Morales and his closest advisors, an entorno (“surrounding” cluster of advisors) that he characterizes as separating itself from the MAS-IPSP’s grassroots base.

Internal divisions within the MAS-IPSP showed themselves in December and January in the distancing between a so-called ala oprimida (oppressed wing) of legislators who stayed in the country and the leadership in exile. It was Morales and the exiles who chose Arce over rival Choquehuanca to head the ticket. The most visible member of the ala oprimida, Senate President Eva Copa (MAS/El Alto) was left out of the candidate lists for the 2020 election.

The MAS-IPSP took a major joint action with that base in the July–August protest campaign to demand prompt elections. With over 100 points of blockades and participation from labor unions, this was a broader coalition than took to the streets to protest Morales’ ouster November 2019. But while it showed a continuing relationship between the party and many social movements, it also depended on rural municipal governments and may he a poor gauge of the party’s strength. At least some of the protesters felt sidelined by the MAS’ final negotiating position, though the labor union confederation, the Central Obrera Boliviana, accepted an intermediate truce until elections are held. Union leaders remain concerned about anti-MAS fraud at the polls.

2. Jeanine Áñez, Luis Camacho, and the Right wing: Controlling the national government wasn’t enough to cement lasting power

Ahead of the October 2019 election, I observed the challenge facing Bolivia’s hard Right wing: “Right-wing politics remains a minority tendency within Bolivia.” In three successive elections, the Santa Cruz-based regionalist movement had captained the opposition to Evo Morales, and was defeated each time. Nonetheless, this same movement rallied massively in late 2019, holding cabildos before and after the election, giving many of their votes to Carlos Mesa, and joining the anti-fraud push in the weeks after the election. Behind the scenes, Cruceño civic leader Luis Fernando Camacho maneuvered in search of police and military allies, either sparking or propelling forward a police mutiny and an officers’ rebellion within the military command. Amid the uncertainty, Camacho flew to La Paz and staged a dramatic entry into the presidential palace (Palacio Quemado) with a Bible in hand, enacting a racist fantasy of civilizing the Indian president through Christianity. Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes negotiations maneuvered political unknown Jeanine Áñez into the presidency. Áñez in turn swore in Chapare hotelier Arturo Murillo and retired officer Luis Fernando López as Ministers of Government and Defense, respectively, and elevated López and Camacho’s allies in the military to the high command.

In less than a week, the hardliners had propelled themselves not just to the head of the anti-Morales movement but to the crucial positions of power in the state. Áñez’s party had won a scant 4.24% of the vote, but she assumed the role of transitional president. Had this been her sole intent, as she repeatedly promised that week, the lack of voter support might not have been so consequential. But both she and Camacho had the ambition of transforming their temporary leap into a permanent place in power.

Áñez announced she would run for president on January 24, reversing her November and December promises to never use the presidential office to secure her own election. It came on the heels of a dramatic annual address on January 22. Her candidacy was built on an unexpected alliance with Sol.Bo, the center-left party that governed the city and department of La Paz.

Luis Camacho, with no elected office or place in the Áñez government, had announced his candidacy on November 29, 2019. Camacho played against stereotypes by sealing an alliance with Potosí Civic Committee (Comcipo) President Marco Pumari to serve as his vice presidential candidate on December 31. The political manifesto of their alliance offered only slogans and rejection of the “narcogovernment” of Evo Morales: “We leave aside the recurrent discourse of division between east and west, of the division between city and countryside, of the division between left and right.” “It is necessary for us to unite to construct a new STATE based on the trilogy of God, Fatherland, and People.”

Making a dramatic gesture of offering to “blank out” his own candidacy, Camacho convened a February gathering of the anti-Evo Morales opposition: “We are going to bring ourselves down so that we can all support a single candidacy.” The unity talks went nowhere: no one dropped out of the race. The perpetual inability of the Bolivian right to unify around a candidate haunted the half dozen politicians seeking to take on Luis Arce and the MAS-IPSP.

Meanwhile the street-clashing “youth” arm of Camacho’s civic movement, the Santa Cruz Youth Union (Unión Juvenil Cruceñista)—which Camacho had once headed—built ties with its Cochabamba analogue, the Cochala Youth Resistance (Resistencia Juvenil Cochala). Both groups made periodic appearances in on-the-street political violence as the year wore on, most dramatically during the waining days of the July–August blockades. Ministers in the Áñez government sometimes praised these less-lethal quasi-paramilitary formations, while also insisting that the police and armed forces must now take charge of the streets. In late January, that control took its most tangible form with the stunning deployment of 70,,000 armed soldiers to streets across the country.

However, with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, a national health crisis began to overtake the Áñez government’s ambitions to consolidate the energy of the October protests behind it. Áñez and her cabinet were troubled by a series of scandals surrounding overpayment for badly needed medical supplies, and the epidemic exploded, first in Santa Cruz and later in La Paz. Luis Camacho peaked in the polls in January and Añez in February, neither ever overtaking Carlos Mesa.

Finally heeding her own advice, Áñez withdrew from the race in favor of anti-MAS-IPSP unity in September. Camacho stayed in, following the footsteps of Áñez’s 2019 Democrats alliance as the standard bearer of the eastern autonomist Right. Assuming that his voters don’t desert him to strategically back Mesa, Camacho’s Creemos party is on track for regional strength in Santa Cruz and Beni, but a near shut-out elsewhere. Still, such a fraction could hold sway over a hypothetical president Mesa in need of allies and unwilling to cut a deal with the MAS-IPSP.

The darker possibility is of attempts by the Right to hold power through the security forces, or through a repeat of the 2019 protests in the event of a MAS-IPSP victory. While these paths cannot be ruled out in advance, the broad acceptance of the legitimacy of the electoral authorities by the leading anti-MAS candidate makes these scenarios unlikely. Both Áñez and Camacho tried to use their temporary leadership of the anti-MAS parade to claim national power, but those plans have not been realized.

Formally dressed Luis Arce with an open collar and a Che lapel button

Luis Arce (MAS) leads polls heading into Bolivia’s election… but may struggle to prevent a runoff

After a year of unprecedented turmoil—including reasonable doubts about whether a new election would be indefinitely postponed—Bolivia’s leading political parties are heading into the October 18, 2020, election in much the same configuration as they were one year earlier. Luis Arce Catacora, who served as Evo Morales’ finance minister for twelve of his fourteen years in office, leads the race as the candidate of the Movement Towards Socialism–Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples (MAS-IPSP). He seems on track to win a plurality in the first round of voting, to surpass the 40% threshold of valid votes, but perhaps not to obtain the 10 percentage-point advantage over the second-place finisher necessary to obtain a runoff. And once again, former president Carlos Mesa, and his Citizen Community coalition, represents the only serious threat to the MAS-IPSP. Newcomer Luis Camacho, scion of Santa Cruz’s right-wing elite, seems poised to be the only other candidate to break the 3% minimum for parliamentary representation.

Three major polls by the Tu Voto Cuenta academic–NGO consortium, the Ipsos polling firm, and the Centro Estratégico Latinoamericano de Geopolítica (CELAG) show tightly converging results as can be seen here. (Added Oct 15: CiesMori/UTP and Mercados y Muestras/Página Siete.)

Arce
MAS
Mesa
CC
Camacho
Creemos
Projected
Margin
Tu Voto Cuenta
(15,537 adults, Oct 2–5)
33.6%
42.9% valid
26.8%
34.2%
13.9%
17.8%
7.7%
Ipsos
(2000 adults, Sep 21–Oct 4)
34.0%
42.2% valid
27.9%
34.6%
13.8%
17.1%
7.6%
CELAG
(1700 adults, Sep 21–29)
44.4% valid34.0%15.2%10.4%
CiesMori
(Sep 29–Oct 8)
32.4%
42.2% valid
24.5%
33.1%
10.7%
13.5%
9.1%
Mercados y Muestras
(3000 adults, Sep 20-Oct 8)
27.1%
37.2% valid
27.2%
37.4%
14%
19.2%
-0.2%

A 10% margin is still within reach for Arce and the MAS-IPSP, and any such count would not be subject to the same accusations of his party controlling the electoral apparatus. However, a close count could still arouse both skepticism and protest. Arce remains essentially at the same place in the polls as Evo Morales in October 2019. Then, as now, plenty of former MAS voters have not yet rejoined the party, something which Arce and VP candidate David Choquehuanca’s base-mobilizing strategy seems intent on reversing.

On the other hand, there is still time for anti-Morales forces to coalesce behind Mesa. Indeed, Mesa’s current lead appeal is a call to unify against the MAS:

“Help me stop fraud and corruption. Let’s build a better Bolivia together because my people comes first.”

CELAG and Tu Voto Cuenta surveyed voters on their second-round preferences as well. In CELAG’s poll, Mesa edges out Are 44.6% to 42.4%, while Tu Voto Cuenta found a larger margin of 43.8% to 38.0%. However, both these results show sizable fractions of null and undecided voters who could be swayed during the weeks of campaigning that would precede a second round.

The polls signal the likely failure of several political projects that emerged during last year’s voting. Interim president Jeanine Añez dropped out in September, urging the anti-MAS-IPSP forces to consolidate their votes. The La Paz-centered center-left party Sol.bo, led by mayor Lucho Revilla, has since re-endorsed Mesa, restoring the alliance it spurned to back Áñez. Christian conservative Chi Hyun Chung, a surprisingly strong third-place finisher in the 2019 vote, seems poised to be excluded from the legislature. Former president Jorge Quiroga polls around 1%. Meanwhile, Luis Fernando Camacho’s party is heavily concentrated in Santa Cruz, where it looks set to lead the race, with strong third-place finishes likely only in Beni and Pando. Despite taking Potosí civic leader as his vice presidential candidate, Camacho is polling at just 7% in that highland department, with only marginal support in the rest of the Altiplano.

CELAG reports that 84.7% of voters say they will vote in spite of the ongoing pandemic, with the remainder unsure.

Lead photo: Luis Arce Catacora in April 2019 Creative Commons attribution/noncommercial/share-alike license by Casa de América.

Bolivia postpones elections after Áñez decrees a “total quarantine”

The Bolivian government of interim president Jeanine Áñez has decreed a sweeping “total quarantine” for 14 days to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and halt a small, but significant outbreak of COVID-19 in the country. (Prior coverage of COVID-19 in Bolivia|Wikipedia) There are just 19 cases confirmed in Bolivia, with known community transmission in urban Oruro and the municipality of Porongo, both of which were already under local quarantine measures. Nonetheless, municipal and departmental authorities, legislators, and presidential candidates had all called for a total quarantine in the past few days. The fourteen-day emergency restrictions immediately prompted electoral authorities to postpone the highly anticipated general election, previously scheduled for May 3.

The quarantine measures mandate Bolivians to stay in their homes except for trips for work, groceries, and medical care; shorten the working and shopping day; and suspend public transport. It enters into force at 12am on Sunday, March 22, just hours after being announced. Bolivians are encouraged to provision themselves today, but markets will remain open for the mornings under the quarantine.

After Áñez decreed the national quarantine, Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) suspends electoral preparations for 14 days, calls on all parties to agree on a new date for general elections, previously set for May 3. In recent days, six political parties supported postponing elections, but the largest, but Evo Morales’ MAS-IPSP opposed any delay. Both calculation are in part political, since the MAS-IPSP is leading in the polls and the Bolivian political Right has failed to consolidate around a single candidate.

The Tribunal had little choice but to propose some delay since the proposed quarantine will interfere with pre-election preparations, even if it ends on schedule on April 5. The Tribunal’s statement s very clear in seeking consent from the legislative branch, led by a MAS-IPSP majority for a new election date. It also points out the central and troubling challenge: “to resist the threat of the pandemic and to also organize a clean and transparent electoral process, which will reflect precisely the will of the citizenry and will permit the formation of a legitimate government.”

It remains to be seen whether Áñez decision was necessary or precipitous, and whether the quarantine will further militarization and political divisions within the country or allow Bolivians to supplant them. The fractures opened up during the 2019 political crisis remain gaping, as does the absence of an elected government. There are clearly signs of both a cross-party willingness to cooperate against the coronavirus, as evidenced by recent agreements in El Alto and the Chapare, as well as clear signs of political opportunism. As with the rest of the world, much also depends on whether or not the coronavirus spreads out of control over the next two weeks.

Top image: President Jeanine Áñez at the repurposed anti-imperialist military school, rapidly converted as a COVID-19 isolation site. From @JeanineAnez on Twitter.

New arrests in “sedition” case targeting Evo Morales

Departmental legislator Gustavo Torrico and Evo Morales’ legal representative Patricia Pamela Hermosa are the latest people arrested in the interim Bolivian government’s legally dubious effort to prosecute exiled president Evo Morales for the crimes of sedition and terrorism. Torrico, a member of the Departmental Legislative Assembly of La Paz, was arrested last night (February 6) and is expected to be charged with sedition for threatening comments he made in a late October radio interview. Hermosa, for her part, was arrested on February 2 while bringing Morales’ identity documents into Bolivia in order to register him as a MAS-IPSP candidate for Senate. She seems to be under investigation due to telephone records indicating she spoke with Evo Morales in November after his overthrow on November 10. The government has also floated the possibility of subpoenaing Chapare cocalero leader and senate candidate Andrónico Rodríguez in the case.

These moves, on top of the active investigation of at least 592 Morales government officials for alleged financial irregularities, and the recent brief arrests and apparent physical mistreatment of two officials given safe passage out of the country, illustrate a scenario in which judicial actions is being used as an active mechanism of political persecution against members of Morales’ party. The “sedition and terrorism” case is the spearhead of that overall effort.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges & Lawyers Diego García-Sayán has publicly called out the Áñez government: “I am concerned by the use of judicial and prosecutorial institutions for political persecution. The number of illegal detentions is growing. Today it was the turn of former minister Gustavo Torrico. I call for respect of the independence of institutions and for due process.”

García-Sayán published a broader critique in yesterday’s edition of El País in Spain.

Details on Torrico’s October comments follow…

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Bolivia’s 2020 presidential candidates: A very quick guide

Party/
Alliance
Presidential CandidateVice Presidential Candidate
MAS-IPSPLuis Arce Catacora undefinedundefined
finance minister, 2005–19
David Choquehuancaundefinedundefined
foreign minister, 2005–17
CCCarlos Mesa Gisbertundefinedundefined
president, 2003–05
Gustavo Pedraza Méridaundefinedundefined
planning minister, 2004-05
FPVChi Hyun Chungundefinedundefined
doctor, Baptist pastor
Leopoldo Chui
lawyer, El Alto prosecutor
Juntos
Jeanine Áñezundefinedundefined
interim president
Samuel Doria Medinaundefinedundefined
planning minister, 1991–93
CreemosLuis Fernando Camachoundefinedundefined
Santa Cruz civic movement
Marco Antonio Pumariundefinedundefined
Potosí civic movement
Libre 21Jorge Tuto Quirogaundefinedundefined
president, 2001–02
Tomasa Yarhuiundefinedundefined
rural affairs minister, 2001–02
PAN-BOLFeliciano Mamani
Cooperative Miners Federation
Ruth Nina
police spouses association
ADN
Withdrawn.
Ismael Schabibundefined
Navy admiral
Remberto Siles
Army general

Today, February 3 was the deadline for Bolivian parties to submit their candidate lists for the May 3 general election, which replaces the annulled October 2019 vote. Here is a summary of the parties, their political situation, and their candidates.

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