Historic times

By Published On: December 19, 2005Categories: Politics3 Comments on Historic times

I was glued to the box last night watching the Bolivian elections. The last time I had done that was during the 2004 US elections when I was in hospital and had nothing to do except get depressed before a knee operation. My request for a 5 year general anaesthetic the following morning was refused.

But last night, I didn’t want to even sleep. After a strangely quiet day without traffic and or shops, the TV channels positively buzzed with energy as it became clear that history was in the making.

Despite saying that they were aiming for 50%+1, no-one I came across (including the campaign manager for MAS who I interviewed) predicted that he could do it, but last night Evo Morales managed to surprise commentators once again when his party, MAS, swept to power with what looks like 51.1% of the vote (final official results are not confirmed yet).

This has never happened.

Even in the run-up to the revolution in 1952, Victor Paz Estenssoro only got 45%; President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in 2002 got in with only 23% of the vote.

Bolivia has its first Indigenous leader for more than 500 years.  A man who was once a llama herder and who came from an impoverished mining family is now President replacing the privileged white/mestizo elite who have run the country since Independence in 1825. Are we starting to see the unravelling of the conquistador legacy in Bolivia?

Most amazingly Evo Morales managed to win convincingly against a fierce campaign by Podemos and a very biased media (a Latin American Communication Institute produced a report of their monitoring of election campaign coverage and said much of it was racist, classist and consistently anti-Evo).

They could have even won by a higher margin as it was revealed that 806,000 voters had been excluded from voting lists. The Electoral Court said it was due to people not registering for 2004 municipal elections, but many voters said they had voted but were still excluded. There had been accusations in the run-up to elections that the Electoral Court was biased against Evo, and noticeably many of the districts of excluded voters were in places where MAS could have expected to do well.

With MAS winning 64% of votes in La Paz, my taxi exit-polls ended up being almost more accurate than the last newspaper polls. What was certain was that the  belief that the country needed a "change" seized the popular imagination. It was the word I heard over and over again. 

I headed down to the MAS headquarters about 10pm last night, coming across pockets of chanting blue-and-black adorned MAS supporters throughout the city. Outside their headquarters fluttered two flags (the indigenous multi-coloured wiphala and the Bolivian national flag) and a big poster on the door emblazoned with the words "Do you think this country needs a change?" 

A balaclavered indigenous man who shines shoes for a living told me: "This is an historic day. Our country desperately needed a different government from those traditional parties who have robbed us for many years. We have such riches but many of us are poor. Now thanks to the blessing of God we have an Indigenous President.  If he is humble, he can improve Bolivia."

Of course, this is where the even bigger challenge comes than winning the elections. MAS now has to try and respond to peoples’ expectations for a more just Bolivia. As the MAS campaign manager, Juan Ramon de la Quintana told me very honestly a few weeks ago: "No political instrument is ready for power. The challenges we face are very big and complex and we will certainly make errors" He also noted their lack of experience but said "we have great commitment, moral and political to overcome these difficulties and forge a better future for Bolivia."

On my return to the flat, I watched the last part of TV coverage of the campaign which ended with MAS supporters dancing "cuecas" in the streets of Cochabamba. Immediately after the programme ended, there was a glossy advert by the Bolivian Hydrocarbons Chamber of Commerce with scenes of gas pumps and children in hospitals. Over the images, a voice talked of the need for foreign investment to ensure resources for a good health system.

The Chamber represents all the major multinational oil and gas companies here, and is currently threatening to sue Bolivia for billions if changes are not made to the new hydrocarbons law that was passed in May 2005 which increased taxes on the companies. MAS has instead promised to take the law further by increasing State control of the hydrocarbons industry in order to distribute more benefits to the poor.

The advert seemed a very timely reminder of some of the forces, Evo Morales and his government will be up against as they try to respond to the historic mandate granted by many Bolivians yesterday.

Tags: Bolivia | Evo Morales



  1. thomas December 19, 2005 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    un dia historico… a ver lo que va ocurir ahora. Espero de todo mi corazon que Evo no vaya a caer bajo las presiones internacionales, nacionales y… psicologicas. Muchas fuentes de peligro, no te parece?
    Muchissimas gracias de Amiel por tu regalito.
    Desde Belgica, de donde te seguimos…

  2. Global Voices Online December 19, 2005 at 8:28 pm - Reply

    Evo Morales: Bolivias New President

    Grandmother and Grandson After Voting (Photo Copyright 2005 Jonathan Lieberman)
    It would seem that Bolivia has found itself a new president-elect in Evo Morales, the leftist candidate of MAS (Movement Toward Socialism) party. For the…

  3. lindsay December 21, 2005 at 7:12 am - Reply

    Felicidades Bolivia!
    Nick, thanks once again for the superb reporting – this time on the elections. You sounded great on the radio, just like a veteran BBC correspondent!
    keep up the great work, un abrazo,

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