People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 50

December 13, 2009

Elections in Bolivia and Uruguay 


R Arun Kumar



RESULTS of elections, held within a period of one week, in two countries of South America have come out, once again reiterating the continent's tilt towards Left. Contrary to the trend in Europe where the conservatives were able to record substantial gains in the elections to the European Parliament and subsequent elections in some of the nations, Latin American people re-elected the Left and Centre-Left governments in Bolivia and Uruguay. Evo Morales was re-elected as the President of Bolivia for the second consecutive term and Jose 'Pepe' Mujica representing the centre-left coalition Frente Amplio (Broad Front), was elected as the new President of Uruguay. While Morales recorded an emphatic victory, it required a run-off in Uruguay for Mujica to register his victory.

The election of Morales was in line with the trend of victories he has been achieving in the country after getting elected as the president for the first time in 2005. He had won all the elections held in the country during this period � defeated the recall referendum, won the referendum ratifying a new constitution. It is only in January this year that he won the referendum for the new constitution and it is on that basis that elections were held to both the congress and senate along with that for the election of the president.

Morales had undertaken a thorough campaign, touring throughout the country, meeting people discussing their problems and issues and explaining them the efforts undertaken by his government and criticising the opposition's divisive agenda. He posed two options before the people, �there are two ways: moving forward in support of change or going back to the past, going back to neo-liberalism�. He had appealed to the people not to just vote for him as president but also to vote for the candidates of his party, Movement Toward Socialism (MAS). His election was a foregone conclusion, as many surveys have been predicting his comfortable victory - the point of discussion only being his margin of victory.

The interest in these elections was centred on the senate and congress elections, as these two institutions, particularly the former, were stalling many of the pro-people measures undertaken by Morales during the course of his tenure. The slight edge that the opposition enjoyed in the senate was used to stall many policies that Morales had announced and even refused to respect peoples' mandate. Morales has campaigned stating �Over the last four years, what was most damaging to us was the senate. The people do not have the majority there.� It is to be remembered here that Morales had to undertake a 5-day hunger strike in April to ensure that the senate respects the mandate of the January referendum, setting the date for the December elections and designating a small number of seats to the poor and indigenous areas.

As per the results available till date, Morales and his party were successful in achieving their objectives. Morales won comfortably by securing more than 62 per cent of the votes, nearly 37 per cent more than his nearest opposition rival. Indications are that MAS would secure two-thirds majority - both in the Senate and the Congress. Another important aspect in this election is that Morales was able to win substantial number of votes even in the 'lowlands' considered to be 'bastions' for the opposition. In the most volatile opposition ruled province Santa Cruz, he secured 43 per cent of the votes as against the 50 per cent votes secured by the opposition candidate. Nobody expected Morales to gain this high number of votes from this oil and gas rich province.

The victory of Morales is expected to further hasten the process of nationalisation of natural resources, strengthen the role of state sector in the economy and increase the scope of several welfare schemes initiated in his first term. This reaffirmed confidence people had expressed on Morales is because he had taken bold steps to fulfil the promises of his 2005 campaign - a new constitution, regulations on land ownership, large-scale nationalisations. He had initiated a series of social welfare measures by ensuring the distribution of pensions and subsidies for slums and impoverished rural highlands. The government has championed indigenous languages and even established three indigenous universities that offer training in Aymara, Quechua and Guarani languages.

Since 2005, GDP in Bolivia, one of South America's poorest countries, has jumped from $9 billion to $19 billion, pushing up per capita income to $1,671. Besides tightening state control over the gas, oil and mining sectors, Morales has nationalised the main phone company and expressed his intention to take over the electrical power industry. Foreign currency reserves have soared, thanks partly to revenue from the nationalised energy and mining sectors. The IMF expects economy to grow by 2.8 per cent next year.

It is the clarity of thought and the ideas that Morales is putting into practice that is making the opposition in Bolivia jittery. They view this as a threat to their hold on land and capital and thus are going all out against Morales � assassinations, criminal conspiracies, destruction of national wealth and even threatening to secede from the country. The US too is giving them a helping hand through the USAID and their embassy. They wanted to use the present crisis to malign Morales and flare the ensuring hardships to posit people against him.

Morales was clear on the genesis of the present economic crisis engulfing the world and the current discussions on the climate change and the threat to environment. He said, �The origin of this (climate change and financial) crisis is the exaggerated accumulation of capital in too few hands. It is the permanent removal of natural resources and the commercialisation of Mother Earth. The origins come from the system and an economic model of capitalism�. Morales has been fighting these forces throughout his political career and is exposing their designs to the people. It is only his immense belief in people that helps him emerge victorious in this struggle. �The people aren�t stupid, people can see�. This victory of Morales and MAS is thus one more nail in the coffin of such forces.



In Uruguay, the presidential elections went to a run-off between the candidates of the ruling coalition Frente Amplio and the opposition National Party. In the run-off held on the 29 November, a former guerrilla leader, Jose 'Pepe' Mujica emerged triumphant. He secured 52 per cent of the vote and in the process defeated former President Luis Alberto Lacalle (1990-1995) of the National Party.

Jose Mujica or 'Pepe', as he is affectionately called, has an inspiring and interesting history. He was an active participant in the Tupamaros Guerilla Movement that started against the right-wing regimes in Uruguay in the 1960s and continued till 1970s. He had escaped death six times, shot by the armed forces of the state while fighting the dictatorship. He was arrested in 1973, tortured and was imprisoned for 14 years. He was released as part of the general amnesty given to all the political prisoners after the end of the dictatorship. He played an important part in the conversion of the Tupamaros guerilla movement into a political party and was also in its subsequent joining the broad left Frente Amplio. Known for his rustic language and straight talking, he is immensely popular among the common people and he served as a congressman, senate member and as a minister for agriculture for three years in the previous administration.

His victory is looked at as a broad approval for the five year term of the Frente Amplio administration that had come to power for the first time in its forty-odd years of existence, when Tabare Vazquez was elected as president in 2004. Vazquez was credited with starting a 'social emergency plan' which allocated $100 million to social programmes and relief from economic problems in areas such as housing, food, healthcare and jobs. During this period, poverty has dropped from 32 per cent (2004) to 20 per cent, unemployment fell from 13 to 7 per cent and in this recession year, its GDP is expected to grow at 1.2 per cent. The most innovative scheme introduced by this administration is the 'Plan Ceibal' that provides a laptop with internet connection to every primary schoolchild in the public education system. He also introduced a tax system which had increased the taxes on the wealthier citizens.

While these provided Mujica with a solid platform to build his election campaign, the opposition candidate, Lacalle, campaigned with a promise to re-implement the neo-liberal policies that he had initiated during his earlier stint as president. Naturally, people with their 'experience' of the neo-liberal policies implemented by the right-wing and the social welfare schemes of the left coalition, did not choose the former once again. The opposition parties had attacked the character of Mujica, particularly his guerilla past and called him an 'assassin' and 'blood thirsty criminal'. They also propagated that if he (Mujica) is elected, 'he would take the country in the path of Hugo Chavez'.

Mujica, had stated repeatedly that it is not 'Chavez's path' that he intends to take the country along but the 'path of Lula'. As pointed by many observers, Mujica was 'made to control his sharp tongue' in order to win over the 'middle-of-the-road voters'. They also point to the fact that he had chosen former economy minister, in the Vazquez administration, Danilo Astori as his running mate for the post of vice-president. It should be mentioned here that in spite of all the social programmes of the earlier administration, Astori was viewed approvingly even by the Wall Street.

Now with election victory behind them it needs to be seen how Mujica shapes his presidency. The big question would of course be, whether Mujica's 'idealism' of his 'guerilla days' would be the dominating trend or the 'business-friendly policies' that Astori is famous for. The answer would depend on the pressure exerted by the people through their popular struggles and movements. And Frente Amplio owes its very existence and rise to power to these very popular movements.