The sudden blast of folk music was the only warning that I was about to be run over by an election truck. I leaped out of the way as the vehicle sped past with a giant speaker on its roof playing distortedly loud music, festooned with blue flags and posters of Presidential candidate, Evo Morales.
It’s about two weeks to go until General Elections in Bolivia, and I feel almost run-over by the parties’ attempts to convince you to vote for them. Radio and television blast out adverts, street walls, houses and billboards assault you with posters and slogans, young people who look like they are in a cult thrust leaflets into your hands and foreign journalists seem to be arriving in hordes waiting to sensationalise a victory of Evo Morales, a "champion of cocaine producers" (Observer)
So here for those confused by what’s going on or who can’t be bothered to read entire articles in the Guardian is my fun-sized guide to the elections:
Well, on the right we have Jorge Tuto Quiroga (Tuto) whose party colours confusingly are red with a Che Guevara type star. He is an ex-IBM executive and big friend of the US who was briefly President in 2001. He has chosen a wierd image to promote himself on giant posters, where he looks like he has just had something painful shoved up his nether regions. His slogan promises "Progress and Peace" which seems highly unlikely given that he is hated by most of the social movements who have periodically brought the country to a halt.
On the left and confusingly in the blue colours of the British Tory party, we have the only candidate that interests the foreign press, indigenous leader of the coca-growers, Evo Morales (Evo) who is universally painted as a mad lefty radical ready to join President Hugo Chavez in dedicating his life to pissing off Bush.
The slogan of his party, MAS is "Now is when" as well as various plays on the word MAS which means ‘More" ("Now we are MAS" etc). Their slogan has some truth in it as they are leading in the polls and could be the first Left party to take power since the early 80s. Some of his candidates keep the election coverage lively by talking of seizing power if they don’t win it democratically. But behind all the rhetoric, their leaflets with their vague ten point programme has strong reminiscences of Tony Blair’s credit card promises suggesting radical change without really meaning it.
Then we have third-place candidate, cement magnate and Burger king owner, Samuel Doria Medina who doesn’t win a nickname and promises to give his all to the country. The literal translation is "give his face to the country" which is probably to hide the size of his burger-swelled belly. He seems to be going for the world’s most boring TV adverts award, and pitches himself as a centre-left candidate like President Lula of Brazil between two extremes. But his centrist tactics haven’t had much luck – even President Lula recently rejected him talking about the exciting possibility of another lefty government in the Southern hemisphere.
There are of course other candidates but I can’t remember their names, and none of them are remotely entertaining options like the Monster Raving Loony Party.
Confusingly despite some obvious ideological differences, the parties seem to use the same language to describe most their policies. The top phrases you can guarantee them all using are: "We are going to nationalise the gas for the Bolivian people," "We are going to build a new Bolivia," "We will construct a more unified and stronger country for all people not just a few" (sounds a bit like Tony Blair, that one), "We are going to invest in small businesses" and "Llama stew will taste better under our Government" (actually I made that last one up)
Most confusingly, they all say that they are against neo-liberalism even though two of the candidates played a central role in designing and implementing neo-liberal economic policies for Bolivia. Still I guess telling barefaced lies is hardly unique to Bolivian politicians.
Just like Britain, the parties that are currently behind in the polls say they don’t trust them. In my current survey of La Paz taxi-drivers, I have:
7 for Evo
4 Don’t knows (although most look like they would swing to Evo)
3 for Tuto
1 Doria Medina ( the argument given by the taxi driver was that as he is so rich he won’t try and steal like the rest of the politicians…mmm)
which is quite close to the batch of polls you find in the press on the situation in La Paz but then when have taxi-drivers ever been typical of the population?
What none of them say…
….is that none of the candidates will win. Firstly candidates have to get more than 51% to win the Presidency outright. If they don’t Congress members will decide, and it is likely they will be too split to give a winning candidate much of a mandate. Moreover, Bolivia is still largely run by the IMF and the international aid community who write much of the policies and provide more than 50% of the Government’s budget on public investment. But no-one has so far suggested that Bolivians vote to change them.
But I guess at least, the election campaigns are giving a boost to printers, radio and TV stations who must be getting record business so maybe that at will at least have some impact on the economy. And it’s good for me too… I can now meet journalists and pontificate as if I was a learned Bolivia foreign observer. Expect some more musings soon.