Bolivia Political Players
Evo Morales: The president has repeatedly bested his opponents in both the legislature and the country’s eastern departments since taking office in 2006, and easily won a five-year extension of his mandate at a presidential election held in December 2009. Morales has come to recognize that Bolivia needs foreign investment if he is to achieve his social policy goals, but even his limited efforts to create a more inviting business climate have increasingly put him at odds with various elements within his political base, who have no reservations about using militant tactics to press their demands. His slumping support will not undermine his chances of winning re-election in October 2014 as long as his opponents remain divided, but it will leave him all the more vulnerable to the application of pressure from the unions and the indigenous community, a situation that does not bode well for the investment climate, and points to the potential for renewed regional tensions that could threaten national unity.
Movement toward Socialism: The governing party controls a two-thirds majority in the legislature, and despite a drop in support amid growing disenchantment with Morales’ government, there are few signs of weakening unity. Consequently, the president should have little trouble securing passage of any measures he presents for approval in the lead up to this year’s elections. Popular support for the MAS has eroded since 2010, but while the party’s legislative majority may be eroded, the failure of the opposition parties to form a united front will limit the potential for the emergence of a center-right majority in the legislature following the October 2014 elections.
Without Fear Movement: A center-left party that initially backed Morales’ government but broke with the administration in early 2010, the MSM is now openly competing with the MAS for the support of moderate leftist voters. Although the MSM holds just a few seats in the national legislature, it made a strong showing at sub-national elections held in April 2010, retaining control of the mayor’s post in La Paz and winning the mayoral election in Oruro, which historically has been a MAS stronghold. The MSM was among the parties that disputed Morales’ eligibility to stand for another term in 2014 (which has been confirmed by the courts), but party leader Juan del Granado, a human rights lawyer and former two-term mayor of La Paz, has rejected calls for all opposition parties to back a joint candidate, and is planning to contest the October election. His chances of victory are slim, and his presence in the race could draw enough votes away from Samuel Doria Medina to enable Morales to win without need for a run-off contest.
Center-Right Opposition: Taking their cue from counterparts in Venezuela, where a united front of opposition parties came close to winning a special presidential election held in mid-April 2013 to choose a successor to that country’s long-time leftist leader, Hugo Chávez, Bolivia’s center-right parties attempted to form a broad alliance united by the aim of denying President Morales a third term in office. At the invitation of Ruben Costas, the governor of Santa Cruz, opposition lawmakers, governors, and other top political figures met in the southern city of Sucre to hammer out a plan to join forces against the MAS in 2014. The gathering concluded with an agreement to establish a multiparty Social Democratic Movement. Samuel Doria Medina, the leader of the National Unity Front, formed a separate alliance, the Broad Front, and proposed that the two center-right blocs and the MSM join together in support of a single candidate chosen from among nominees put forward by each of the blocs. However, that plan never came to fruition, and both Costas and Doria are likely to stand as candidates in October, a prospect that increases the chances that a split of the center-right vote will facilitate Morales’ re-election.
Indigenous Groups: Indian groups were at the forefront of the unrest that toppled two governments in 2003 and 2005. Hopes that the election of Morales, an Aymara Indian, might bring an extended respite from destabilizing protests may be disappointed, as Indian groups have been among the loudest critics of the MAS administration, and have indicated that they will not hesitate to turn up the pressure if promises of improved conditions are not honored.
Foreign Investors: Foreign investors will be vital to the successful exploitation of the nation’s resource wealth, which, if mismanaged, could cost the government its best opportunity to alleviate the widespread poverty that is a root cause of Bolivia’s political instability. Morales has acknowledged that Bolivia needs foreign partners in the hydrocarbons and mining sectors, but his penchant for nationalizing strategic industries and his tendency to respond to displays of public discontent with populist gestures that are frequently hostile to foreign firms will have a dampening effect on investment.
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