Bolivia 2019: Evo Versus Mesa

By Katu Arkonada on October 21, 2018

This August the Bolivian Plurinational Legislative Assembly passed the Law of Political Organizations, long time in the making; this law has three fundamental electoral components. First the mixed financing for political parties based on private and state financing, parity democracy that requires 50% participation of women in both party decisions and candidacies and above all, the obligation for parties to hold primaries to choose their candidates, in the case of 2019, presidential and vice president.

The approval of this law, intelligently promoted by the ruling party forces the opposition to reconfigure its strategy, which, faced with the erosion of traditional parties, had opted to promote “citizen” platforms against the government and the process of change, whose message was amplified by the opposition media.

The second political fact is the subsequent announcement by Carlos Mesa that he will be a presidential candidate rescuing the acronym of an old left-wing party ally of the neoliberal right, FRI (Revolutionary Front of the Left). Mesa, following the dynamics installed by the right in the continent when it comes to confronting progressive governments, presents itself as “new” in the face of the past that the Movement for Socialism (MAS) and Evo Morales would represent.

Mesa proposes a new leadership for a new time, appealing to the citizens, hoping that they will forget that he was already a candidate and was Vice President of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and then President in 2003 when Gonzalo, after the black October massacre in El Alto, fled by helicopter and plane, first to Peru, and from there to the United States, where he is hiding from Bolivian justice.

The reality is that the approval of the Law of Political Organizations, and the formalization of the candidacy of Carlos Mesa, reconfigures the political-electoral battlefield of a Bolivia where the militants of the different parties will choose their platforms. The campaign season will begin as soon as January 27, 2019. On one side is Evo Morales for the MAS and Carlos Mesa for the FRI as the main candidates and aspirants for the Presidency of the Plurinational State.

In December this year, the Electoral Body will have to validate the candidacies. This process will be the first political confrontation as the opposition will attempt to reveal its campaign as first battle front, and laying the first stone to promote a political-institutional crisis that will last all of 2019, until the day of the election. If the candidacy of Evo Morales and his companion, Álvaro García Linera, are not validated, a crisis would occur that would have to be resolved by the Constitutional Court.

In any case, these two political events partially close the cycle of confrontation through platforms (some of them so far right that they have links and publicly support Bolsonaro in Brazil) as they try to impose the idea that in Bolivia there is a dictatorship. It will be a classic confrontation between the MAS project of democratic enlargement and redistribution of wealth with inclusion, as opposed to the political and economic project that Carlos Mesa will have to present to the citizens. We will probably see a multidimensional confrontation, with Evo Morales surrounded by a political opposition led by Carlos Mesa, a media opposition with the main private media against the government, and a certain catastrophic tie in the streets between the ruling party and the opposition.

The scenario for October 2019 does not look simple. In order to win in the first round it is necessary to obtain at least 40% of the votes and 10 points of advantage over the second place finisher, something that neither Evo nor Mesa seems to be able to guarantee right now. However, MAS has the advantage of starting from a hard core of 30%, but Mesa knows that a second round between Evo and him would take place on February 21 and would probably give victory to the opposition in a kind of all against Evo campaign. If the MAS wins, it will do so, unlike in 2005, 2009 and 2014, without a parliamentary majority.

There is a reality to deal with, and it is the wear and tear and loss of mysticism in the process of change led by Evo Morales. The distance between an Evo perceived as distant by the urban middle class is partly due to errors in government management, but it is not the only reason. When the Bolivian government was proud to have lifted (according to the United Nations) 3 million people (out of a total of 11) out of poverty, it did not calculate that it was changing people, from militants in defense of sovereignty and natural resources, to one of consumer citizenship.

The confrontation between Evo and MAS and Mesa and the FRI will be the hardest confrontation since the 2006-2008 cycle. In the MAS there is a solid leadership, which unifies and brings to cohesion to the different tendencies, groups and unions, and a project of the country that is crystallized in the Patriotic Agenda 2025. It is necessary to finish what began in the early 90’s when the first marches for land and territory took place, a constituent process that came together after the wars for water (2000) and gas (2003) in the victory of the MAS, the nationalization of natural resources (2006) and a Constituent Assembly (2006-2008). This constituent process should culminate in 2025, the year of the bicentenary, with a Bolivia where there is no Bolivian in a situation of extreme poverty, or where there is 100% basic services, electricity, drinking water and sanitation.

To do this, it is necessary to self-criticize the errors, but also to explain the reasons why one project or another could not be achieved in these 13 years of change. The real battle is in the streets, disputing the common sense of the new Bolivia, where 50% of the electoral demographic in 2019 will be between 18 and 36 years old.

The values of MAS include the expansion of democracy, redistribution with inclusion, territorial integration through infrastructure, industrialization and productive diversification. On the other side, the FRI does not exist as a political project, except in opposition to the accomplishments of MAS with its main objective being to evict Evo without using the forbidden word (neoliberalism).

If Evo wins, it will be time to build collective leaderships that sustains and deepens the process of change. If Mesa wins, Bolivia will once again experience times of confrontation between a President with no political structure or parliamentary majority, and an opposition that will continue to defend popular interests, and without any doubt that will be led by Evo Morales.

Source: teleSur blog, translation Resumen Latinoamericano, North America Bureau