Well with just hours to go before the elections, the final results of my taxi-drivers poll are:
17 Evo Morales/MAS
6 Jorge Tuto Quiroga/Podemos
5 Don’t know/undecided
4 Samuel Doria Medina
2 Blank ballots
Over and over again, I heard the comment that “this country needs a change.” They talked about how the country has been ruled for too long by people who have robbed the country for their own personal gain. Interestingly though when I asked if they really expected change given the economic interests that MAS would be up against, the taxi drivers said they that they knew that centuries of structural inequality could not be turned around overnight. “We don’t know if MAS will succeed, but it is time to give them a chance,” said taxi-driver Freddy Salinas.
Purely in the interests of research (of course), I went to a sauna today in a nearby hotel to get the view from the powerful mestizos who have mainly run the country in the last 180 years. Amongst the flabby-bellied rich men sweating it out, I had five for Tuto, 2 for Evo and one blank ballot. I expected 100% for Tuto, but this showed that even some of the elite here believe in change.
If overall this was replicated across the country, then obviously Evo will win by a landslide, but the latest newspaper polls suggest a much closer race with Evo on 34%, Tuto on 29% and Doria Medina on 9%. This probably means that we won’t really know the results until mid-January, when Congress will meet and no doubt negotiate some dirty deals before acclaiming the next President.
Earlier in the week I attended the closing rallies of the principal two candidates, Evo and Tuto in Plaza Villaroel (a square closely linked with revolution of 1952). Both were adorned with giant banners of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates. Both were packed with supporters waving flags of blue and red respectively and equipped with all the party paraphenalia (baseball caps, Tshirts, stickers).
Although there were a diversity of people at both rallies, MAS’s rally was noticeably more indigenous and working class. The waving of one indigenous flag (wiphala) by the vice-Presidential candidate at a Podemos rally couldn’t really hide that fact.
Evo Morales spoke of ridding the country of neo-liberalism, imperialism and colonialism (and probably some other isms that I forget) and promised to put the government back in the hands of the poor and oppressed.
Tuto spent more time attacking MAS, as the party of backward policies, bloqueos (road blocks) and international isolation. He said people were being driven by fear to vote for MAS, although clearly he was trying to use fear to stop people voting for an alternative.
The reality is that whatever the faults in MAS’s programme and the huge limitations and inexperience their Government would have, Tuto’s programme offers very little but more of the same policies that have created such a divided country.
Tuto’s rally was perhaps even more upbeat than Evo’s despite his party being behind in the polls, but after 2 hours of listening to a cheesy jingle “Con Tuto, Podemos” (With Tuto, we can), I had to leave.
What both rallies showed is that Bolivia will be in many ways split into two on Sunday. The divisions will be centred in a good part on class and race, but the bigger divide will be about visions for the country’s future. On one side are those that believe that more liberal economic policies and favourable relations with the US will be the solution to pulling people out of poverty and strengthening Bolivia. On the other side are those who feel that 20 years of liberal economic policies have merely enriched a few and impoverished many and who want to reclaim the role of the State and stand up to powerful economic interests that exploit Bolivia.
Whoever ends up being Government in January 2006 will have a tough challenge governing these two worlds.