Bolivia: Return of democracy in the South American nations

November 11, 2020 2:02 PM

Bolivia has seen a tumultuous past year, and its imperative that in an attempt to comprehend it we forgo the inclination to think in binary.

The Bolivian population matrix has a definite tilt towards the indigenous communities. (Photo source: Reuters)

By Dr Aparaajita Pandey

Bolivia has seen a tumultuous past year, and its imperative that in an attempt to comprehend it we forgo the inclination to think in binary. As most of the world, Bolivia also suffers from dichotomies in politics. Capitalism or Socialism, Catholic or Native religion, European descendants or Indigenous peoples; these are all examples of dichotomies that exist in the Bolivian social, economic, and political context. However, after a year of political turmoil and social upheaval the recent Bolivian elections and their results confirmed to the world and more importantly to Bolivia that, the voters of the country no longer vote on the basis of convenient dichotomies.

As Bolivia was in the middle of welcoming their new President Luis Arce. Arce who just won the election doesn’t seem to be too different from his predecessor who has spent the last year in exile. Arce is also a man who belongs to an indigenous community, he hails from the same political party as Evo Morales; the Movement to Socialism Party or MAS, and Luis Arce follows a political ideology similar to that of Morales which bases itself in the bed rock of socialism and finds itself at odds with capitalism or as Morales has previously pointed out another form of imperialism.

Bolivian politics has seen a transformation in the past decade and a half. Evo Morales was the first indigenous man to ever be elected as the President in Bolivia. Fourteen years and an interim presidency later; Luis Arce has become the second native man to do the same. The present Bolivian politics finds its roots in the racial divide that is a prominent feature of much of Latin America and also of Bolivia. The colonization of the continent, the subsequent regime by the Europeans, their settling in Latin America, and their eventual cementing at the very top of the social hierarchy on the basis of their race is a history that has become the bedrock of socio-economic and political structures across the region and interestingly has also stimulated change in norms of politics and society.

The Bolivian population matrix has a definite tilt towards the indigenous communities. The largest ethnic group in Bolivia is that of the Quechua who constitutes approximately forty-six per cent of the population and the second largest group is that of the Aymara who constitute approximately forty-three per cent of the population. There are also thirty-seven other smaller ethnic groups that are a part of the Bolivian ethnic composition. The little that is left is made up of European descendants, descendants of African slaves, and the mix of various permutations and combinations of the major racial and ethnic groups.

While it is true that Bolivia is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, about seventy – seven per cent of its population, it is important to highlight that Catholicism is still associated with a clear racial divide between the wealthier, powerful European descendants and the impoverished, Bolivian indigenous. When Morales became the President for the first time fourteen years ago, he was the product of a deeply divided society that wanted one of their own to gain political power. Morales was the first indigenous president, he was a socialist, and also the man who nationalized Bolivian natural gas. A lot has changed since then. The Morales regime has been appreciated for the paradigm shift they brought to Bolivian politics; however, they have also been marred by the corruption scandals, vanity spending, authoritarianism, personal bias, and even statutory rape.

While the claims have been vehemently denied by the Morales’ offices; it was Morales’ lust for continuous power that had resulted in protests against him. The former President had tried every trick in the book in an attempt to secure a fourth Presidential tenure. The voters, however, realized that in this process Evo Morales was on his way of irrevocably undermining the institutions of democracy of Bolivia. As he got a carefully handpicked court to rule that Morales’ fourth bid for Presidency was his freedom of expression; he has unwittingly paved a path to authoritarianism for his successors. A path quite readily adopted by the interim President Jenine Anez who deferred the election twice albeit in the name of COVID.

The voters of Bolivia gave democracies around the world an important lesson to remember. They had rejected Morales and his tactics but, they had not rejected MAS. They were ready for a change in Presidential regime but the desperation for change did not push them towards divisive politics of Anez. The victory of Luis Arce signifies that a country can go through political turmoil, and still keep its democracy alive. It also shows that voters can vote for candidates that promise stability and peace, instead of hateful rhetoric. Most importantly it showed that the strength of institutions usually outlasts political maleficence if the voters are aware and politically conscious. The recent Bolivian election showed the world that the elections were not about Morales, Anez, or Arce; the elections are about people, who should always be the decision-makers in any democracy.

(The author is an Asst Professor at the Institute of Public Policy, Amity University and a PhD from Centre for Canadian, US, and Latin American Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Views are personal).

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