Elections Postponed in Bolivia

For about the last month this country has lived under the threat of an electoral postponement; the December 4 general elections were up in the air. Today, barely an hour ago, the Bolivian political parties represented in the National Congress were unable to reach an agreement in order to authorize elections as they had been expected to do. The pressures coming from the right (based in the department of Santa Cruz) to obtain more seats in the new session of congress have achieved their main goal: a climate of general uncertainty. Here’s the story: When the department of Santa Cruz requested that four new electoral districts be drawn in order for them to get four more deputies (members of the lower house) in the next Congress, the Bolivian political class cried up to high heaven (everyone from Evo Morales to neoliberal former president Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga): the redrawing of the electoral map in this country could hold up elections. Late last month, the Santa Cruz leaders insisted nonetheless on pressing for their demands, making a claim before the Constitutional Tribunal (Supreme Court) that turned out very well for them.

After that event, Congress was obligated to meet to discuss the various proposals for redistributing Bolivia’s nine departments’ representation. But a month later, after debates, threats, and exchanges of accusations, there was no agreement. In fact, today the deadline ran out for making decisions, modifying the necessary laws, and authorizing the National Electoral Court… and it was a bust; no one did anything in order to reach an accord. For the entire week, congressmen from all different regions were walking out of the sessions…

Yesterday, while the representatives of Cochabamba and Santa Cruz entrenched themselves in their respective regions, there was no session in Congress. There was not one today, either, of course; not even the Movement Toward Socialism’s (MAS) representatives were in La Paz. All congressional activity was limited to a long meeting between party and regional leaders and a few representatives from President Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé… but they didn’t get anything done.

And so, although Evo Morales accuses Tuto Quiroga and former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada of plotting against democracy; although Quiroga has been defending himself; although Deputy Williams Paniagua (a friend and fellow ideologue of Sánchez de Lozada) says that he and all his fellow Cruceños (people from Santa Cruz) are hoping for elections to go forward as planed; although everyone complains and says that they had always warned that “the wolf was on his way,” none of them applied any pressure… Evo spoke today from the Chapare, Quiroga declined to pressure the congressmen that he controls (which are no small number), and the right wing representatives from Santa Cruz and those from Cochabamba, who seem to have made some kind of deal, are far away. No one was in his or her seat to defend democracy.

President Rodríguez, who spent weeks guaranteeing that elections would proceed, is doing nothing but analyzing the situation, and has yet to show his face. His representatives, especially Presidential Delegate Jorge Lazarte, could barely sum up the events and don’t know if it will be possible to find a way out of this.

For now, the leaders of the political classthat work in Congress are still in meetings, trying to find a solution, which could take the form of a decree to redistribute seats (if the president is up to it). Rodríguez Veltzé will speak shortly to clarify his position…

This is a scenario full of Judases and Pilates that we will continue to report on, because the people, in the streets and in the communities, are already beginning to show their discontent (don’t forget, kind readers, that the people did not ask for these elections during last May and June’s mobilizations, but they accepted a truce in order to wait for them)… stay with us, as the air around here is heating up…

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Pres. Rodríguez Veltzé Isn't Moving

The whole mess came about this afternoon when the National Electoral Court (CNE in its Spanish initials) released a statement announcing that it was now impossible to complete its work and organize the December 4 elections.

With this declaration, which court spokesman Salvador Romero Balliván (a man close to former president Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga) endorsed and explained one hour ago, the CNE demonstrated that it was incapable of printing and distributing ballots (and fulfilling all of its commitments) in a period of less than forty days. Ballivián, nevertheless, left open the possibility that the process could be carried out one or two weeks after the scheduled election day (on either the 11th or 18th of December, both Sundays).

A few minutes ago, the president’s spokesman announced the government’s official position on the matter in a brief press conference. Taking into consideration the CNE’s announcement, President Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzá has “initiated an urgent evaluation” of what this implies, held meetings all afternoon with representatives of various sectors (businessmen, elected politicians, and his own government officials)… but not much more.

According to the presidential spokesman, the Bolivian president will try to meet with all the sectors involved in this conflict to “soften positions” and produce a result on Monday at the latest, “an accord to preserve de Bolivian democratic system and national unity,” the spokesman said.

As for the possibility of making a decree to redistribute Congressional seats (specifically in the Chamber of Deputies), the government spokesman explained: “At the moment we have nothing defined on that issue,” making it clear that they continue to see this method as a possible alternative.

Finally, Rodríguez Veltzé’s position is that elections “be carried out in the month of December, within the terms of the call [for elections after the May-June uprising],” looking at a new timeframe in order to move elections ahead according to the CNE announcement. He also dismissed the possibility of holding the Constituent (Constitutional) Assembly (a solution that is already being examined) before the elections.

In fewer words, kind readers, the president of Bolivia is not moving from his spot, not making any concrete action… further feeding the uncertainty.

Spreading Bad Information on Elections in Bolivia

As always, our little colleagues from the international news services are contributing to the general chaos. In this case, kind readers, we can’t let that happen, because even Evo Morales seems to be falling into their trap…

Let’s make this very clear: in the climate of tension that the new distribution of congressional seats — endorsed by the Constitutional Tribubal — has caused, the National Electoral Court (CNE) has expressed its technical inability to carry out its organizational and logistical duties, BUT IT CANNOT SUSPEND ELECTIONS, because it is not empowered to do so.

Nevertheless, probably in order to sell more copy, both EFE and UPI are going around shouting that the CNE has suspended elections.

This issue, which may seem pretty insignificant, is a delicate one, because aside from accusing Congress (as EFE’s reporter does), they don’t mention the heart of the issue: it was the members of the Santa Cruz right wing (with the complicity of those from Cochabamba) that closed the doors to an agreement on the congressional seats: that is what is impeding the realization of the December 4 elections. The CNE is just an institution that threw the first stone at the democratic system, one which everyone is now following…

Don’t let yourselves be confused, kind readers. The villains of the story are the members of Santa Cruz oligarchy (and not their messengers from the CNE)… people who couldn’t find anything better to do than find a way to sabotage a process that, according to the polls, doesn’t seem to be favoring them much…

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