Evo Morales and the Movement toward Socialism (MAS) secured a decisive re-election victory this Sunday in Bolivia, gaining a two-thirds majority in Congress while winning approval for autonomy compromise.
The sole traffic on the streets of Bolivia this Sunday consisted of sandwich vendors and bicycles. Election Day prohibits the use of cars, alcohol, political propaganda or formal commerce, but the unusual quiet of the day gave way in the evening to crowds of jubilant Evo Morales supporters gathered in city squares across the country to celebrate their unequivocal victory.
The final vote count gave Evo Morales (MAS) a victory of 63 percent, followed by the opposition candidate Manfred Reyes Villa (Progress Plan-National Convergence) with 27 percent. The vote is historic, and not only for the significance of its symbolic value in the hearts of the Bolivian people (which isn’t to be under emphasized); Morales is Bolivia’s first indigenous president in a nation with a majority indigenous population and the first Bolivian president to be re-elected. On Sunday, Morales won the highest vote count in Bolivian history, breaking the record he set in 2005 when he won with 54 percent of the vote.
If that isn’t enough of a mandate, Morales’s political party, the Movement toward Socialism (MAS), also gained a two-thirds majority in the national Congress. In a country where the vote is mandatory (more than 90 percent of the population voted), the breadth of support for the MAS reflects at least perfunctory popular approval of the policies of the past four years.
Those policies include the passage of a new federal constitution, the partial nationalization of the country’s natural resources, and a number of well-received social welfare programs. Underlying most of these changes is a distinct political ideology, which espouses staunch opposition to Western imperialism and is rooted in the recognition of Bolivia’s plurinational identity.
“The Bolivian people are either with this process for change, or they are with neoliberalism,” Morales stated on national television during the vote count. Later in the evening, speaking in front of a massive crowd from the Presidential Palace, he made conciliatory overtures to the conservative strongholds in Bolivia’s resource-rich Eastern lowlands, asking opposition authorities to work with the government “because Bolivia comes first.”
The vote also included a referendum on departmental autonomy, an issue that has plagued Bolivian politics since Morales came to power four years ago facing sometimes-violent resistance from opponents in the eastern part of the country. This election season, the Morales administration decided to propose a compromise scheme for nationwide autonomy, wherein the departments can choose their authorities and exert more control over the administration of their natural resources. The proposal passed in the five relevant departments with near 80 percent support.
Some Bolivians expressed apprehension on Sunday over the possibility for social conflict, which often occurs in the aftermath of Bolivian elections. “I’m afraid that it will fester over the next months; that the conservative youth will stage a protest,” said Karina, a university student attending the MAS rally in Plaza Buch in Cochabamba.
But standing amidst the waving blue re-election flags and colorful wiphalas (a powerful symbol of the indigenous movement and of the MAS), the moment looked like a testament to the viability of hope.