Bolivia has averted the civil war that may have ensued had the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) not won the election on 18 October. MAS’ victory had been expected for months but the margin of victory was emphatic and the organisation and unification of the party over the past twelve months was impressive.
Following the electoral fraud, mass protests and violence in 2019 that resulted in the exile of MAS’ leader, Evo Morales, cracks were emerging as the party split into three factions: a cabal of violent activists supported by the drug cartels and ruthlessly loyal to Morales, a moderate group of lawmakers led by Eva Copa and Sergio Choque and a working-class group who believe in socialism but were growing tired of Morales’ unconstitutional antics.
MAS ran a smart and successful election campaign, uniting the factions of the party with a combination of Luis Arce running for President and David Choquehuanca as vice president. Throughout the campaign, the party distanced itself from Morales and led with messages of hope, economic track record and reconciliation of a divided country. “Choquehuanca was key to uniting the MAS party. He agreed to go second, despite the power and support he had, for the greater good of the party – a rare move for a politician,” commented a Bolivian Ambassador in Europe.
“Choquehuanca was key to uniting the MAS party.”
Bolivian Ambassador in Europe
In contrast, the primary opponents to MAS were not able to unite and ended up fighting each other.
Carlos Mesa and his Comunidad Ciudadana (CC) party, the largest MAS opponent, lacked a clear message of what they stood for and instead ran a negative ‘anti-MAS’ campaign, which was a mistake. After reaching 43% in the 2019 elections, CC dropped to 30% in this year’s election. “Mesa is not new to politics, he should have defined who he is with clearer proposals,” explained a political scientist and MAS advisor.
The outsiders, Fernando Camacho and Marco Pumari ended up with 13% of the vote. Camacho’s campaign was mired by scandals and the inclusion of old, hated politicians. To make matters worse, as the elections approached, Camacho’s strategy took a drastic turn attacking this time Mesa, not the MAS, opening a wider rift between the opposition leaders.
Many media outlets are hailing the election result as a victory for democracy, but with intimate knowledge of how Bolivian institutions function, we see this rather as a victory for peace.
“MAS does not negotiate, they have had 14 years of complete control and will not want to give it up.”
Board member of Bolivian central bank
For example, under the interim government, MAS had a two-thirds majority in the Legislative Assembly, which they used to frustrate the government and drive their own agenda. Following the election, they will only have a simple majority so at midnight on 27 October, MAS rushed through changes to 11 articles of debate regulations to require only a simple majority rather than a two-thirds majority.
This is not democracy, and as a board member of the central bank told us, “MAS does not negotiate, they have had 14 years of complete control and will not want to give it up.”