Bolivia – Morales’ Base Eroding
Back in February, voters rejected a constitutional reform that would have permitted President Evo Morales to stand for another term in 2019. However, with the presidential election still more than three years off and the governing MAS controlling a comfortable majority of seats in the Congress, the possibility that a second vote held later in the current term might produce a different result seemed well within the realm of possibility.
Recent developments have not ruled out such a scenario, but it is clear that the president should probably bide his time before once again testing the popular appetite for an extension of his presidential tenure. Discontent over spending cuts and tax increases necessitated by the negative impact of low commodity prices on state income has fueled anti-government protests in the aftermath of the referendum, and demonstrations launched by miners in August escalated into deadly violence, including the brutal murder of the deputy interior minister.
The government has cracked down hard on the miners, who historically have a loyal section of the governing party’s electoral base. Top leaders have been jailed, and the Cabinet has approved a series of decrees aimed at tightening state control over the mining cooperatives.
The president has signaled his recognition that private investment is essential to fully realizing the economic potential of Bolivia’s abundance of natural resources, and has periodically initiated charm offensives aimed at courting investors. However, Morales has repeatedly undermined his own efforts in that regard by resorting to hostile gestures toward foreign firms when he comes under political pressure at home.
During the commodities boom, private investors were more willing to accept the risk associated with the government’s unpredictable policy shifts. With the boom now ended, Bolivia needs foreign investment more than ever, even as investors are less willing to take a chance on a risky bet. Based on the president’s track record and the recent political developments, there is good reason to assume that bets on Bolivia will carry a fairly high level of risk for the foreseeable future.
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