What Bolivian democracy looks like
Author: W. T. Whitney Jr.
People's Weekly World Newspaper, 04/23/09 14:26
Noam Chomsky recently praised Bolivia as .probably the most democratic country in the world.. (Democracy Now, April 13.) .Huge, popular, mass organizations of the most repressed population in the hemisphere [have] entered the political arena [and] were able to elect a president from their own ranks..
Evo Morales represents them .in a sense in which democracy is supposed to work,. Chomsky said. Reacting to their loss of power, elite sectors are .threatening virtual secession..
Short of that, these elites recently tried to sabotage the new constitution approved last January by a 61 percent majority. Toward that end, they mounted a campaign to block a temporary election law, required under the constitution to authorize presidential and national assembly elections set for Dec. 6.
Struggle in the National Congress came to a climax with the approach of the constitutionally-imposed 60-day time limit for passing the law. Without the law, there would be neither elections nor another victory for Morales. He had won the presidency in 2006 by a 54 percent majority and a presidential recall referendum in 2008 by 67 percent.
In the Chamber of Deputies where Morales. Movement Toward Socialism party had command, the election law quickly passed. But opposition deputies in the Senate, who make up a slight majority, refused to compromise, provoking resignation threats from the lower chamber. Some senators went home, depriving the Senate of a quorum. The white, business and landowning elite, led in the Senate by former President Jorge Quiroga, once allied to dictator Hugo Banzer, temporarily had the upper hand.
It was a situation putting Chomsky.s observation to the test. Morales. unique leadership style and political finesse were also on display.
President Morales fasted for five days beginning April 9. Almost 3,000 Bolivians did likewise, including labor leaders, representatives of social movements, and citizens living abroad. Thousands of indigenous and peasant supporters protested in the streets, encircling the National Assembly. Fasting with Morales in the nearby National Palace, Pedro Montes, leader of the Central Bolivian Workers Federation, described the situation to reporters as an emergency.
Inside, the Congress president, Vice President Alvaro García Linera, worked to keep the proceedings alive before and after a brief Easter recess. The opposition senators returned, a compromise was fashioned, and on April 14 the election law passed.
The government had earlier refused to grant an opposition demand to use biometric markers to identify voters. Eventually objections to costs estimated at $35 million, predictions that potential voters would be excluded, and worries about insufficient time for implementation were set aside. The government also agreed to conduct a new census. To raise money for expensive technology, the government dropped plans to buy a presidential airplane. It refused opposition calls for the resignation of José Luis Exeni, president of the National Electoral Court that would superintend the new voter identification program.
Under the new constitution, indigenous communities are allotted dedicated representation in the National Congress, the numbers until now unspecified. The government had opted for 14 delegates, the opposition for three. The compromise solution delivered via the election law was seven delegates.
Government plans for allowing Bolivians living abroad to vote morphed into an agreement that 240,000 would do so, only 6 percent of the total. The Morales forces agreed to accept into the election law widely varying schemes among Bolivia.s nine departments for electing local officials. That some took shape under autonomy statutes fashioned by the eastern departments suggested to critics the government was showing favor to the autonomy movement.
Carping surfaced afterwards that a compliant Morales government wavered in accommodating right-wing stipulations. .Treason to the indigenous movement of the country. was how Adolfo Chávez president of the Indigenous Confederation of Eastern Bolivia put it, referring to allotment of indigenous seats in the National Congress.
At issue, however, was .grave risk to the democratic principle essential for the effective exercise of popular sovereignty,. posed, according to an inSurgente.org analyst, by .representatives of the Bolivian people persisting in not complying with the fundamental law of the state..
With his hunger strike, Morales was able .peacefully to bring opposition legislators back to their responsibilities.. Choosing not to rely upon available legal justifications for using force, he offered a muted response to provocation thereby avoiding violent confrontation.Stumble It!