Bolivia: Elections and Populism

La Paz, Bolivia: governmental headquarters.

“I voted for Morales,” said Flavia Nunez, a 50-year-old office clerk, in central La Paz. “These other right-wing candidates would take us back in time. I don’t want that.”

Sunday, October 12, 2014, poll booths were up and running in Bolivia. However the elections took a predictable course as current president, Evo Morales, appears to be the clear leader. Morales, famed for his indigenous Aymara descent and the son of a coca farmer, is assumed to win the Bolivian elections for a 3rd term.

Although Bolivia has a system limiting presidents to two terms, in 2009 Morales lead a charter to “ignore his first term, which was under the old dispensation,” says The Economist.

Bolivia, having about 6 million registered voters, was urged to go vote by Morales in an effort to demonstrate the country’s unity.  As stated by Flavia Nunez in the above quote, many support Morales’s greater push for nationalism and growth, many Bolivians see this movement as progressive and what they need.

According to the World Bank, the indigenous community makes up about 62% of the country. Bolivia and Guatemala are currently the most populous for indigenous people in all of Latin America, these indigenous groups maintaining the ethnic majority. It is no wonder, that Morales strikes a relatable chord with the people. The Economist noted,

A September survey by Equipos Mori, a pollster, shows that 58% of Bolivians believe the country is “moving in the right direction” and 75% approve of Mr. Morales’s management.”

Bolivia's current president, Evo Morales, and current leader in Bolivia's presidential election.
Bolivia’s current president, Evo Morales, and current leader in Bolivia’s presidential election.

Many Latin American countries like Venezuela, Peru, Argentina, Brasil, Ecuador and Bolivia (as examples), have emerged as natural gas and crude oil exporters. Within the last couple years, Bolivia’s exportation of gas, minerals and soybeans have enabled the economy to maintain a growth rate of about 5% since Morales took office in 2006.

With similar ideas to Chile and Argentina, Bolivia has begun a nationalization movement,

Semi-nationalizing the hydrocarbons industry enabled him to channel much of this windfall into state coffers. –The Economist

Often times Morales is compared to presidents from Ecuador and Venezuela with his strong pull and almost dictatorship type control within the country, however the people do not paint him in such a light. Political enemies have been prosecuted by Morales before, and his control of about 2/3 of Congress, allows him to easily create and implement new policies.

Bolivia has the resources, but Morales’s “anti-American and anti-capitalist rhetoric” as noted by The Economist foreshadow possible xenophobic problems and an uncooperative market for international trade and investment.

Bolivia is another example of the populist movement within Latin America, the question is if they will take the bait from similar socialistic systems like Russia and China, or will they shut down and miss the international opportunities they need to continue their economic growth?

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