Bolivia voted too!

Last week, I mentioned that it wasn't only Mexico that had significant elections on Sunday -- Bolivians headed for the polls as well to vote on a new Constituent Assembly and a referendum for more regional autonomy. (Here's the post -- scroll past the Mexico stuff. Also, there are links at the bottom with all the background you need.)

The "quick-count" is a tally based on a sample of votes taken from all of the country's polling places. It's in, and it projects President Evo Morales' Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) winning 132-134 seats in the 255-seat Assembly. That's a majority, but less than what MAS needs to re-write the Bolivian Constitution on its own votes.

Here's what you'll read in your paper. The Guardian reports that -- while there's no polling to show it -- "Chavez Influence Dominates Vote in Bolivia." They interviewed a couple of people and then quoted the opposition's radio ads to that effect. The Detroit Free Press says: "Bolivian leader dealt setback on agenda." It adds, "He is now apt to have to compromise," as if that's a bad thing in a country as dangerously polarized as Bolivia. The business press spins the outcome thusly: "The result shows the marginal support of the people of Bolivia to the radical economic reforms brought about by President Morales."


Cuba's Granma spins it the other way, reporting that "Today the Bolivian government has entered a consolidation phase after a Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) triple victory in the Constituent Assembly elections and in a referendum regarding autonomy, affirmed President Evo Morales." Gotta love state-run media.

The truth lies somewhere between. MAS did win a majority of seats in a process that favored the opposition to some degree. Morales also won 60% of the popular vote (projected), an increase from the 53.7% that voted him into office in December.

And here's the crucial bit of context that we won't read in the WaPo (prove me wrong!): as Mark Weisbrot at the Center for Economic Policy and Research notes, not all of the remaining 120-something seats are going to be controlled by Morales' hardcore opposition -- many will be held by representatives who fall somewhere in between MAS and the large landowners and businessmen who oppose Morales' agenda. "It shouldn't be that hard to get the two-thirds the government needs to implement its reforms," Weisbrot told me by phone.

There was also a referendum on more regional autonomy for Bolivia's nine departments. The lowlands are where the wealth and industry (and white folks) are concentrated, and many resent subsidizing the little brown people in the highlands, many of whom don't even speaka da Spanish. Four out of nine of the departments voted for more autonomy, but any final arrangement has to go through the Assembly.

Morales has said that the Assembly has to respect the people's wishes, but it will ultimately be an outcome negotiated in a body in which a majority of seats are held by MAS. As I pointed out in Friday's post, Morales' proposed reforms are similar to those approved overwhelmingly in a 2004 referendum, so there's an opporunity for a deal to be cut on all of these contentious issues.

As always, the excellent team at the International Crisis Group has analysis and recommendations for all parties involved (shorter ICG report: everyone chill the fuck out and respect the political process).

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