Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bolivia is changing 1

«Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen,
And keep your eyes wide, the chance won't come again.
And don't speak too soon, for the wheel's still in spin,
And there's no telling who that it's naming.
For the loser now will be later to win,
For the times they are a-changing!»

Bob Dylan, The times they are a-changing

Bolivia is changing. Tentatively, uncertainly, but it is changing. And it is changing irreversibly. The change shyly started on April 2000 (with the so called "war of water") and finally became unavoidable on December 18th 2005.

What is exactly changing? Most of the Bolivian citizens expect the change of the ethnic and status-based distribution system of goods, prestige, honor, and power. That kind of change, of course, requires years or decades of structural transformations. Therefore, it would be a little bit naïve, by now, to demand a deep metamorphosis like that. It can be said, however, that something in the last two years stopped to be the same in Bolivia. At least it is undeniable that the political era changed. Indeed, 18th December 2005 marks the end of one political era and the starting of another.

The finishing political era lasted 20 years (1985 – 17th December 2005) and is well known as "la democracia pactada" (the pacted democracy) or as "la partidocracia" (the political parties' rule). According to their ideologists, the "pacted democracy" was the political-institutional arrangement that allow the Bolivian transition to and consolidation of democratic rule. That definition, of course, is an irreflexive repetition of concepts thought for Spanish political process. In Bolivia, on the contrary, "the pacted democracy" was an implicit pact among three major (MNR, MIR, AND) and other seven instrumental and less important political parties (MBL, UCS, CONDEPA, NFR, MRTKL, PDC, FRI) oriented, on one hand, to create a distribution mechanism of jobs at the State and of turns in the government, and, on the other, to build a protection shield for political class impunity.

How did the "pacted democracy" work? It articulated three institutional arrangements of Bolivian political system: absence of ballotage, proportional electoral system (partially modified since 1997 elections), and presidentialism. This is not the place to explain how does each arrangement operate or how does it the combination of all of them. For the purposes of this post, it is enough to evaluate their consequences. And their consequences were the distortion of democratic procedures. The main distortion was the conversion of citizens' electoral decisions in something irrelevant. Please look at the chart to follow the explanation of this phenomenon. You can see there the percentage of votes for Presidents' parties in each election since 1985. During the "pacted democracy" era (1985 – 17th December 2005), Bolivia had five presidential elections. In three of them, the President's party got less than 25% of citizens' votes. In other words, in 3 Bolivian presidential elections, more than 75% of citizens did not vote for the president finally designated. Because of the absence of ballotage, in case that any party gets the 50% plus 1 vote, the Bolivian president is designated by the parliament (among the three most voted until 1997, among the two most voted since then). Since the composition of parliament reflects, more or less, the percentages of votes obtained by each party in presidential election and, because of proportional electoral system, Bolivia developed a concentrated multipartidism, until 2005 elections there was no chance to designate president by winning party by itself. It required a pact with other parties to obtain the necessary parliamentary votes for their election[1]. This is why the ideologists argued that "pacted democracy" was the responsible of Bolivian transition: it guaranteed political stability allowing the political parties to monopolize, through pacts, the institutions. In these circumstances, the proportional electoral system and the absence of ballotage left the designation of presidents in hands of political parties. Therefore, Bolivia lived the era of political parties' rule. And Bolivian political system is not parliamentarist!!!!!

Bolivia: Percentages of votes for Presidents' parties, 1985 - 2005

Source: Corte Nacional Electoral (CNE), Boletín Estadístico 7: 25 años de evolución electoral en Bolivia. La Paz: CNE.

If Bolivian political parties practically monopolize the president designation, what did happen with citizens' electoral decision? Simply: it didn't matter. The citizens could vote for one candidate, but even if the candidate won the election with less than 50% plus 1 of votes, the political parties in the parliament had the chance to designate another candidate as president. In fact, in 1989 election the president designated (MIR's Jaime Paz Zamora) was just the third most voted candidate. It's not a joke: in any democracy, the third most voted candidate just loses the election, but in Bolivian "pacted democracy" (at least until 1997 election), he/she could be president. Why then would matter the citizens' electoral decisions when parties could celebrate a pact to designate whomever they want as president (among three or two most voted candidates)? In "pacted democracy", the political parties won. The citizens lost.

As can be seen in the chart, in 18th December 2005 citizens' electoral decision finally mattered. For the first time in Bolivian history, a candidate got more than 50% of citizens' preferences in an open and clean election, namely, in an election where citizens could vote trough a sole and multicolor ballot. With more than 50% of citizens' preferences, there was no chance for political parties to use their monopoly and to designate the president by their own. Bolivian citizens elected directly to our President. To do this, an institutional arrangement transformation was not necessary, but only the crisis of pacted democracy because of the fall of political parties system which sustained it. Pacifically, citizens made their decision matter. The era of pacted democracy were then closed. It began another political era, which still is unclear and hard to describe. Of course, the new political era introduced other distortions to democracy. Nevertheless, the citizens' decision finally mattered. And, unquestionably, this fact represents a change for Bolivia. For the losers before then was 18th December 2005 to win, for the times they are a-changing. Or... What do you think?

All points of view are welcome...

And don't forget to visit:

CNE for Bolivian electoral results (Spanish)

UNDP for an evaluation of Latin American democracy (Spanish and English)

[1] Since 1997, in the absence of pact among two or more parties, the candidate who gets the simple majority (less than 50% plus 1 votes) is designated president if, after two attempts of voting, the members of parliament are unable to elect him/her with absolute majority (more than 50% plus 1).


La Vero Vero said...

My dear friend, it's good, for the national an international community, to be reminded how was the way that our democracy transited, since it was recovered in 1982. Indeed, as reads the logo of the CNE (Corte Nacional Electoral-National Electoral Court) "Now, our democracy is different". And, clearly, is one of the most progressive democracies in Latin America, citizenship is now a daily exercise. That´s why the tension for the figh of the spaces of power that, now, we´re living. Very lucid article.

And congratulations to the editorial team of Bolivia Changes, my dear friends Ego Ipse, Utópico and Rebelde. Lots of congratulations for being a voice of Bolivia to the world. You should make a Taparaku bilingual jeje, but I think that can be enough with respective link. jé!

Lots of hugs

Ego Ipse said...

Dear friends... I already answered your past comments. All points of view are enriching.


eduardo said...

Sadly, I don't things are changing within the government. I agree that the pacted democracy was not a good model to follow, since the coalition had debts to pay with those parties that did provide their support.

However, we are seeing the same with MAS. They claim that it is not a political party, rather an "instrument" for different social movements, unions, and other groups to gather for more access. However, each of those groups have demanded their "pegas" that they claim that they rightly deserve.

I really wish a government would transform the public sector basing it on merit and qualifications, rather party affiliation, which is something that the traditional political parties did so well (pegas, that is..), but unfortunately MAS did not do so, and perhaps even more rigid with some sort of litmus test and loyalty to the party regardless of qualifications.

Great blog and I look forward to participating more actively in the future..


It is smart, but not correct, to take in account only the last 20 years of democracy in the country, the post military de facto rule period, so you don’t have to take in account the period before it and the Agrarian Revolution where as I my knowledge goes, had the same conditions of presidential elections that the ones in your “partidocracia” period. With the difference that MNR won the general elections more than once with over 80% or more of the votes in that period; fare more than the ones obtained by MAS in 2005.

Other thing that you are also misleading is that you are not taking in account the votes of those Bolivians that went to the urns and were dissatisfied with everybody, MAS included. That is, the ones that voted blank or null. You can review your data again and will notice that the MAS party roused to power with around 47% of the emitted votes, not the 50% plus one that according to you gives more legitimacy to the current regime. Taking in account the social crisis in the country that prelude that election, which was also the only one taken place before a president finished his constitutional period in the span of time you are studying, it is by no means right to put it in the same condition than the others.

You say that things are changing electoral wise after this government, I don’t understand why?; the MAS party is full of old politicians and political leaders ex members from the partidocracia; isn’t this almost the same thing? In addition, if the regime’s proposal of constitution isn’t implemented and the parliament doesn’t produce other law or a change of the law, the next presidential elections are going to be under the same terms than during the partidocracia period. And as fare as anybody can see, the proposed new constitution isn’t going to get the required votes to pass, without even taking in account it is illegal.

Yes, things are changing for sure, but I think after the debacle I seen with MAS in the past year, it is too early to cry out loud that a new political era has born.

Sergio Molina Monasterios said...

Plenamente de acuerdo con que el cambio ha llegado a Bolivia y es irreversible: ¿Será lo que todos esperamos? ¿Apenas una nueva frustración? ¿El particular camino de Bolivia al desarrollo?... ¿Al desastre? Responder a esas preguntas me excede largamente, sobre lo único que tengo certeza es que Bob Dylan en este contexto es perfecto.