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Political Parties

In the mid-1990s, Bolivia changed from closed-list proportional representation (PR) to a German-style, mixed-member proportional (MMP) system that expanded voters´ choices and fueled the market for anti-establishment parties. Adopted in 1994 and first used in 1997, the MMP system allowed SMPD candidates to bypass the leaders of existing parties and appeal directly to voters. Under the new system, each voter not only selected the congressional representative from his or her single-member plurality district (SMPD)- of which there were sixty - but could also use "fused" ballots to select another sixty deputies in multimember PR districts. Evo Morales´s first elective office was on of these seats, which he won with the largest majority of any such candidate in the 1997 elections.

The current political changes in Bolivia are fundamental, with a basic reordering of the political power structures underway. These changes were inevitable, given the corruption and inefficiencies of previous governments and political parties. The traditional political parties had not sufficiently incorporated the poor and rural people of Bolivia into the country's political or economic mainstream or provided them adequate development and services. Opposition parties Podemos and MNR are playing a deliberately muted role, recognizing that their unpopular association with the old regimes would play into MAS strategy. Political parties are bad words in Bolivia. Traditional political parties are still playing by the old rules and not fighting with new ways and new leaders. all the established political parties have high negative ratings.

Bolivian political parties do not perform the classic functions of aggregating and articulating the interests of social classes, regions, or individuals. Historically, political parties have been divorced from pressure groups such as labor, the private sector, and regional civic committees. Instead, parties have been vehicles through which politicians can lay a claim to state patronage. As in other Latin American nations, the dependent nature of the middle class, which does not own hard sources of wealth and therefore relies on the state for employment, accounts partially for this role.

The process to register a national-level party takes approximately eight to nine months. A minimum of 57,476 signatures must be obtained within a period of six months, and the signatures are then verified by the CNE. A party's eligibility may be revoked for one of five reasons: first, if a party declares itself defunct; second, if a party does not obtain more than three percent of the total votes cast in the last election in which they participated; third, if a party does not participate in two consecutive elections; fourth, if a party participates in a coup d'etat or other seditious acts; or last, if a party does not update its registration of enrolled supporters according to CNE rules.

While the Bolivian national political scene usually enjoys a very large number of parties, in the last 20 years, 36 parties have lost their eligibility, leaving only 15 as of 2009. In 2007, fifteen new parties initiated applications to receive eligibility, but of these only three are considered active. These three include the Democratic Force (FD) party, led by Adriana Gil, a former ally of Morales in Santa Cruz who now sees him as a "dictator" and his party as riddled with corruption; the Plurinational Alliance of West and East, led by Policarpio Castaneta; and the Front for Victory, led by Eliseo Rodriguez.

The fifteen eligible parties included the following: President Morales' Movement Toward Socialism party, or MAS; the Century 21 party, led by Marcelo Bravo Porcel (which is recognized primarily for its alliance with opposition leaders PODEMOS); the National Unity Front, or UN, led by Samuel Doria Medina; the National Revolutionary Movement party, or MNR, which is the oldest party but currently without a leader; the Social Alliance party, or AS, led by Rene Joaquino Cabrera; the Plan for Bolivian Progress party, or PPB, led by Jose Luis Paredes (aka Pepe Lucho); the Movement Without Fear party, or MSM, led by Juan del Granado; the United Civic Solidarity party, or UCS, led by Jhonny Fernandez; and the Movement of United Social Patriotism, or MUSPA, led by Juan Gabriel Bautista. Other parties include the National Democratic Action party, the Left Revolutionary Front, the Christian Democratic Party, the Bolivian Social Democrats, the Villages for Liberty and Sovereignty party, and the National Concert party.

Former President Tuto Quiroga's opposition-leading PODEMOS party saw its registration lapse. Although it leads the national-level opposition and has the most seats in the Senate, PODEMOS is widely seen as responsible for having failed to slow Evo's Morales Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party and for having proposed a national recall referendum on the Presidency, Vice-Presidency, and regional Prefectures, which ultimately only strengthened Evo. PODEMOS' slide is seen by some as having opened a political vacuum, either for a centrist coalition or for parties representing the more radical civic committees in the eastern, "Media Luna" part of the country.

Since the 1950s, the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (Nationalist Revolutionary Movement - MNR) was the major party in Bolivia. Because the MNR was the party of the 1952 Revolution, every major contemporary party in Bolivia is rooted in one way or another in the original MNR. The rhetoric of revolutionary nationalism introduced by the MNR has dominated all political discourse since the 1950s. Owing to the fact that the MNR was a coalition of political forces with different agendas and aspirations, however, the subsequent splits in the party determined the course of Bolivian politics.

The major splits in the MNR occurred among Guevara Arze, Paz Estenssoro, Siles Zuazo, and Lechín, the principal founders of the party. Each led a faction of the party that sought to control the direction and outcome of the revolution. As MNR leaders tried to subvert each other, factional strife culminated in the overthrow of the MNR and the exile of the four titans of the revolution. Although years of military rule did not erode the MNR's appeal, factional disputes within the party resulted in a proliferation of parties that surfaced in the late 1970s when the military opted for elections. Indeed, political party lines were very fluid; party boundaries were not the product of ideological distinctions and shifted at any moment.

In the late 1970s, Paz Estenssoro, Lechín, Siles Zuazo, and Guevara Arze reemerged as the principal political actors. Siles Zuazo's Nationalist Revolutionary Movement of the Left (Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario de Izquierda--MNRI) joined forces with the PCB and the MIR to finally gain control of the presidency in 1982. Paz Estenssoro orchestrated a congressional vote that catapulted him to power in 1985. Until 1986 Lechín remained at the helm of the COB. Guevara Arze served as interim president in 1979 and was the MNR's vice presidential candidate in 1989.

Founded in 1979 by Banzer, the 2Acción Democrática Nacionalista (Nationalist Democratic Action - ADN) was the most important political party to have emerged in the 1980s. The ADN was significant in that it grouped the supporters of Banzer into a relatively modern party structure. Simultaneously, however, the ADN was a classic caudillo-based party, with Banzer sitting at the top as the undisputed leader. The ADN's ideology of democratic nationalism was not significantly contrary to the revolutionary nationalism of the MNR; in fact, several of the principal ADN leaders were dissidents of the MNR. In large part, however, democratic nationalism was rooted in a nostalgia for the stability experienced under Banzer's dictatorship in the 1970s. Since the 1979 elections, the ADN's share of the electorate grew considerably. Especially in the urban areas, the party attracted the upper sectors of the middle class. Its call for order, peace, and progress following the turmoil of the Siles Zuaro years resulted in its outpolling other parties in the 1985 election. Banzer claimed to have the backing of 500,000 Bolivians, a figure that would make the ADN the largest party in Bolivia.

The other significant political party to emerge after 1970 was the Movimiento de la Izquierda Revolucionaria (Movement of the Revolutionary Left - MIR). Founded in 1971 by a group of young Christian Democrats educated at Louvain College in Belgium, the MIR was linked to the student movement that swept across the world in the latter part of the 1960s. Initially, the MIR expressed solidarity with urban guerrilla groups such as the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional--ELN) and had close ties to its namesake, Chile's more radical Movement of the Revolutionary Left (Movimiento de la Izquierda Revolucionaria--MIR).

The Bolivian MIR achieved political maturity during Siles Zuazo's government. As a part of the cabinet, it was responsible in large measure for enacting important economic decrees. Paz Zamora, the MIR's chief, served as the UDP's vice president. Like other Bolivian political groups, however, the MIR went from a party of idealistic youth to an organization that was captured by a cadre of job-hungry politicians. By 1985 the MIR had split into at least three broad factions that represented the ideological tensions within the original party. Paz Zamora's faction was the most successful, mainly because it retained the party's name while avoiding responsibility for the UDP period. By the late 1980s, Paz Zamora's MIR had become the third largest political party in Bolivia; indeed, some observers believed that after the May 1989 elections it would eclipse the MNR. The new MIR portrayed itself as a Social Democratic party that could work within the parameters of the NPE implemented in 1985.

Antonio Aranibar's Free Bolivia Movement (Movimiento Bolivia Libre - MBL) which reflected one of the more orthodox Marxist strains within Bolivia's original MIR, remained an important MIR faction in the late 1980s. For the 1989 elections, the MBL managed to put together the United Left (Izquierda Unida - IU). The IU included the remnants of a deeply divided Bolivian left.

When Morales was elected president in December 2005, Bolivia's traditional political parties were so weak that many did not directly participate in the elections, including the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) and the National Democratic Action (ADN) party. Those which did compete -- Tuto Quiroga's new Podemos party, Samuel Doria Media's National Unity (UN) party (created in 2003), and the MNR (the party of the 1952 revolution) -- failed to join forces and divided the center-right vote.

The era of "pacted democracy" is finished, and the traditional parties that dominated that era were virtually erased from the political map in the 18 December 2005 elections (the MNR, former President Gonzalo "Goni" Sanchez de Lozada's party, was an exception). Morales’ win indicated a deep rejection of Bolivia’s established political parties, which had become increasingly divorced from civil society in the 1990s and unable to offer meaningfuleconomic policy alternatives. Most Bolivians voted for change and against those who had failed to provide it in the past, but few understood precisely what such change might entail. The rough-and-tumble politics favored by Morales have further exposed the many weaknesses of the traditional opposition.

Morales' longstanding public relationship with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro is more than just for show. He shares with those regional autocrats a deeper political vision, and might be planning to assume and maintain power for the long haul, by whatever means necessary.

The Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS - Movement Towards Socialism) party was founded 23 July 1987. The MAS is less a party than a conglomeration of syndicalist and social sector entities, and therefore has a plethora of different people with distinct agendas to pay off. Moreover, being in the government may bring access to great spoils, but this being Bolivia, the supply of spoils is less extensive than it would be in, say, Venezuela. The cocaleros, or coca growers, are an extremely important political constituency in Bolivia. President Evo Morales, and his political party, are largely financed by the cocaleros, who have a natural convergence of interests with the traffickers who control Bolivia’s main export.

With the July 2006 Constituent Assembly vote largely divided along east-west lines, final July 2 Constituent Assembly election results gave the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party 137, or 53.7 percent, of 255 seats and 50.72 percent of the national vote (just below the 53.74 percent the MAS won in December 2005). The MAS won seven of nine departments: Chuquisaca (54 percent of the vote), La Paz (64 percent), Cochabamba (60 percent), Oruro (60 percent), Potosi (54 percent), Tarija (40 percent), and Santa Cruz (26 percent).

Several opposition parties had a significant presence in the Assembly. Podemos won 60 seats, followed by the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) (comprised of the MNR, Camino al Cambio, and the A3-MNR) with 18, and by the UN and the Free Bolivia Movement with eight representatives each. Potosi Mayor Rene Joaquino's Social Alliance (AS) won six seats, and the National Concertation (an evangelical Christian citizens' group) won five. Seven other parties/citizens' groups won three or fewer seats each. Western Bolivia (the departments of La Paz, Oruro, Potosi, Cochabamba, and Chuquisaca) rejected departmental autonomy, while the eastern lowlands (Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, and Pando) voted solidly in its favor. Inaugurating a Constituent Assembly, followed by a series of elections, including national elections for assembly representatives, a referendum to approve the new constitution, national elections following the Constituent Assembly, and municipal/legislative elections constituted "excessive democracy" which in Venezuela only served to bankrupt the opposition.

The recognized leader of PODEMOS, Jorge "Tuto" Quiroga is considered the glue that binds his party in Bolivia's congress. Unfortunately, he seems tone-deaf to Bolivia's radically changed political environment, and has been unable to strike a chord with the population. As the leader of the largest opposition group in the CA and a former president, Quiroga remains Bolivia's primary opposition leader. Like Ortiz, Quiroga's leadership of PODEMOS may undermine his ability to win national office. Beginning late-November 2006, Quiroga has started to take a more public stance on divisive issues between his party and the GOB to build pressure and support for a two-thirds vote in the CA. While effective as a party leader, most political analysts concede Quiroga would not fare well in a future presidential race.

A wealthy prominent businessman and national political figure (since his third place finish in Bolivia's December 2005 national elections) Samuel Doria Medina is the head of the National Unity (UN) party and a delegate in the CA. An entrepreneur and former minister under ex-President Jaime Paz Zamora, Medina's financial resources and position within the CA enable him to coordinate a national opposition movement. Known for having political ambitions, Medina may try to thrust himself into the next presidential race without regard for his realistic chances of winning it. Medina's chances to run for the presidency, however, have been reportedly neutralized by his willingness to broker deals with the MAS in the CA and threats by the GOB to nationalize his businesses. While the impact of these reports are unknown, Medina would still have to find support outside his party and overcome the leftist, indigenous trend in Bolivian politics if he were to attempt a presidential campaign.

Opposition parties in Bolivia continued to dominate the eastern "media luna" departments of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, and Pando, despite their relative weakness nationwide. In the absence of national direction, regional leaders -- particularly in Santa Cruz -- have stepped forward to challenge the Morales government on various policy issues in a continued eastward gravitation of the political opposition. Bolivia's known fossil fuel endowment is largely concentrated in southern and eastern departments, which have been controlled by opposition parties that demand greater autonomy from the federal government — partly in order to increase investment in and revenues from the hydrocarbon sector.





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