Sunday's recall referendums in Bolivia resulted in a resounding affirmation of support for president Evo Morales and the changes he is bringing to that country, as well as the recall of two opposition governors. Winning with 60% of the vote, more than when he was first elected, his reforms geared towards equal distribution of wealth from Bolivia's resources and a more participatory democracy have received a big boost, despite moves towards autonomy by the wealthier provinces where the oligarchy intends to retain its control of resource wealth. In reflecting upon this exercise in direct democracy that has taken place in Bolivia and similar recall referendums that occur regularly in countries all over the world, including western nations in Europe and elsewhere, we must ask ourselves why in the United States where President Bush has hit a record low in approval ratings, the only option available for a recall on his rule is impeachment by congress. This is not likely to happen, and in a true democracy the people should instead be afforded the option of a recall vote to be put to the entire electorate rather than having to wait until the next presidential election to remove a president that has betrayed the public will. - Editor
Written by Alexander van Schaick
Monday, 11 August 2008
Photo: Thousands of MAS supporters celebrate Sunday night outside the Coca-growers union federation office in the city of Cochabamba. Photo by Amaru Goyes
Cochabamba, Bolivia - President Evo Morales and his Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party won a resounding victory in Bolivia’s Recall Referendum held Sunday, August 10. According to exit polls, more than 60% Bolivian citizens voted "Si" to ratify Morales, a mandate that he hopes will enable the approval of Bolivia’s new draft constitution.
The recall referendum also put eight of Bolivia’s nine departmental prefects (governors) to popular vote. According to exit polls, opposition Prefects Manfred Reyes Villa in Cochabamba and José Luis Paredes in La Paz were trounced at the ballot box, each with only 40 percent support. In Oruro, Alberto Aguilar, one of the two prefects aligned with MAS, may also be revoked.
On the other hand, in Bolivia’s lowlands, where opponents of President Morales have led a movement for "Departmental Autonomy" from the central government, the prefects of Santa Cruz, Beni and Tarija have been approved with large margins of support. It is unclear if Leopoldo Fernández, prefect of the lowland department of Pando, has garnered enough votes to continue in his post.
The referendum did not include Savina Cuéllar, Chuquisaca’s conservative prefect, given she assumed the position only a month ago after a special election.
On a national level, MAS has scored an important victory in reaffirming support for their national agenda, including state recuperation of natural resources, wealth redistribution, agrarian reform, and support for indigenous rights. However, conservative sectors have once again shown their strength in the lowlands and will likely continue to impede the Morales administration at every step of the way.
Photo: A woman votes in Huertamayo, Cochabamba a town affiliated with the Federación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Cochabamba, an agrarian union federation supportive of President Morales and critical of Prefect Manfred Reyes Villa. According to a poll comission by ATB/La Razon, rural voters in Cochabamba voted 92.4 percent in favor of President Morales and 87.2 percent against the Prefect. Photo by Luis Gonzales
Ruben Costas, Prefect of Santa Cruz, stated during a vicory speech, "This insensible totalitarian, MASista, incapable government negates the development of the people and only seeks to concentrate power and convert us into its pawns."
In Cochabamba, it remains unclear how the results of the Recall Referendum will play out. Despite his lack of popular support, Manfred Reyes Villa announced in a message Sunday night that he will not recognize the results of the Referendum and carry on his work as prefect.
"We are going to continue doing battle legally against the [Recall Referendum] because someone has to be at the head of the defense of Democracy and Bolivian citizens' rights and obligations and that someone is me," stated the prefect, as quoted in the Cochabamba daily, Opinion.
Since the Senate passed the law convoking the Recall Referendum, Reyes Villa has carried out a legal and media campaign against the referendum on the basis of what he views as its unconstitutionality.
After the results were announced on Sunday night, a crowd of several hundred people gathered outside the prefect’s office in Cochabamba’s principal plaza, shouting "Manfred Out" and "Don’t cry now Manfred!" If Reyes Villa refuses to step down, peasant and left-wing urban organizations will almost certainly mobilize to force him out of office. Such a scenario might lead to a repeat of January 11, 2007, when three people where killed in fights between supporters of Reyes Villa and President Morales.