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Bolivia - 2019 - Presidential Election

Bolivia faces general elections in November 2019 and primary elections to determine each party's presidential and vice-presidential candidates in January 2019. The parties have already handed in their list of registered militants and are formalizing alliances this week. Evo Morales won the last three presidential elections with more than 50 percent of the votes. He was granted the right to run again in 2019.

The Organization of American States (OAS) and Bolivia signed an agreement today for the deployment of a mission of experts to the 27 January 2019 primary elections that will determine the presidential tickets for the general elections of October 2019. The Permanent Representative of Bolivia to the OAS, Jos Gonzles, highlighted that this is the first time that his country has organized primaries, and thanked the Organization for its support in the electoral process. "For us it is a learning process, it is the first time we have this kind of experience, and we are aware of the tradition that the OAS has in its observations in elections of this type, so we know that its accompaniment will be very healthy," added Ambassador Gonzles.

The Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro, said that the Organization accepts the invitation to participate as observers "with pleasure." "At the General Secretariat we maintain our commitment to strengthening electoral institutions and processes, both in our Andean brother country and in all the countries of the region," said Secretary General Almagro. The Mission would be composed of five specialists who will observe substantial aspects of the process in areas such as electoral organization and technology. Since 1966, the OAS has sent missions to 17 electoral processes in Bolivia.

Bolivias longest serving president confirmed in September 2016 he will step down as head of state in early 2020. "I have already said several times, I am not in the campaign and you have told me, 'Go!' And I am going in January 2020, we are prepared for that," said Evo Morales in a speech to supporters in Pando. The announcement was met with skepticism by Bolivias opposition. Core supporters from the ruling Movement Toward Socialism party say Evo Morales remains their favored candidate for the next elections in 2019.

Morales' announcement follows months of speculation that the president might decide to run for office again despite losing Februarys referendum on abolishing two-term presidential limits. The "No" campaign narrowly won the vote by 51.3 percent. Evo Morales and senior ministers in the leftist government blamed a "dirty war" waged on social media by the opposition and the United States for "fooling" the electorate into voting against the administration.

Coca producers, one of the most important allies of the socialist government, have been encouraging Morales to find a way to legitimately seek a fourth term. "The social movements are collecting signatures asking for a new referendum to authorize his re-election and this announcement seems to be part of an electoral campaign," said opposition Congresswoman Jimena Costa. Former Vice President Victor Hugo Cardenas claimed, "It would not be the first or the last time that Evo Morales promises one thing and, shortly after, does the opposite."

In November 2017, the country's Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal ruled in favor of allowing all elected officials to continue to run for office indefinitely. The decision was based on the judges' interpretation of political rights as defined by the American Convention on Human Rights, according to the North American Congress on Latin America, NACLA.

Ecuador's former President Rafael Correa said he's certain Bolivian President Evo Morales, Latin America's first Indigenous head of state, will be re-elected for a fourth term in the 2019 elections. Interviewing Morales on his show 'Speaking With Correa,' broadcasted by Russian media outlet RT in July 2018, Correa highlighted "double standards" among the international community regarding re-elections. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was praised as a "great leader" on being elected for her fourth term, while Latin American leaders are branded 'dictators,' Correa said.

"Evo Morales makes history in Latin America, the leader who transformed his dear Bolivia, but we also see here a double standard at international level," Correa said. "Because Evo is not doing what everybody does, they say he failed, that he's a populist. Because he will certainly win his fourth election, he's a caudillo and Bolivia a dictatorship. If with all due respect Angela Merkel wins her fourth election, she's a leader and Germany a mature democracy."

Morales and Correa discussed attacks from the international right, and the U.S. threat towards progressive governments in Latin America. One example is the case of friend Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the Brazilian ex-president currently imprisoned on trumped-up corruption charges effectively a political prisoner, they said.

"If there's no military coup, there's a parliamentary coup; a judicial court," said Morales. "I was reading the newspapers and they say they will grant Lula freedom if he's not a candidate, or a judge that says 'I don't have evidence; I have convictions.' Imagine that."

Bolivia's President Evo Morales said in September 2018 that although he would prefer farming coca than running in the 2019 elections, the public has asked him to return for a fourth stint in office. "The people ask me to return, I do not want to... I want to return to my region to harvest coca, that's the great desire I have, but it is not easy to reject it when the people push you," Morales said.

Morales has led the country since 2006 and has alluded to improving the country's bovine and beef sectors before his term comes to an end. "When I go to Yacuiba, on the border with Paraguay, they invite me to barbecue Paraguayan or Argentine cattle, and we want to have Bolivian meat," the president told Pagina Siete.

Since Morales' inauguration, Bolivia's poverty levels have fallen by 3.5 percent; 5,200 schools and 49 hospitals have been built, and the country's economic independence has grown significantly. Through his Twitter account, Morales explained: "Our main achievement is economic liberation thanks to the nationalization of our natural resources and strategic companies, with the unity of the Bolivian people nothing is impossible." And he thanked the Bolivian people for giving him one last shot at the presidency.

In Bolivia, the right-wing has been unable to produce new leaders or to form a unity in order to face Morales in the upcoming elections. Theyre forced to rely on the ghosts of a bygone era, implicated in the countrys deepest economic and social crises. Caudillos like Doria Medina and Mesa have long believed that public office is their personal right. All the leading opposition candidates, Carlos Mesa of the Revolutionary Leftist Front, Victor Hugo Cardenas of the Solidarity Civic Unity, and Jaime Paz Zamora of the Democratic Christian Party have been either former presidents or vice-presidents. All during Bolivia's neoliberal period. Mesa and Cardenas served as VP during the infamous presidencies of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who is responsible for violent privatization attempts and repression.

Evo's opposition had been united under the umbrella of Bolivia Dijo NO (Bolivia said no) in reference to a 2016 referendum on re-election limits. Morales lost the referendum but in 2017 Bolivias highest court struck down limits on re-election, paving the way for President Morales to run for a fourth term in 2019. In that context, with Morales running, opposition parties have been urged to unite in a single candidacy ahead of the primary votes. However, the coming primaries have only revealed that the right is still dominated by the old families and interests that brought the country to ruin before Evo was swept to office in 2006.

Carlos Mesa is so far Morales' leading rival. A former Vice-President and President, he governed immediately prior to Evo during a period of institutional and economic collapse. First as VP to Sanchez de Lozada, or Goni, the President who fled by helicopter to Miami after the economic crisis and Black October massacres. Mesa was a key part of Goni's political campaign. He contracted right-wing United States-based public relations companies to sell neoliberal shock doctrine to an unwilling and unconvinced people in resistance. After political marketing failed, bloody repression followed as over 70 protesters were killed during demonstrations against privatization, some of them were shot by the army from helicopters that flew over unarmed crowds.

Victor Hugo Cardenas, former VP during Gonis first term in office, during a period of rapid privatization of state companies. He was the first Indigenous VP and a prominent representative of a neoliberal identity politics that has tried to marry Indigeneity with neoliberal austerity. Hes running in an alliance with a coalition of activist groups of mostly far-right "citizen's platforms." The largest of these is a group called Las Calles, which has formal and financial links to Brazil's recently-elected president Jair Bolsonaro.

Jaime Paz Zamora presided over a period when inflation ran at over 2,000 percent.

Samuel Doria Medina is one of the figures that best symbolizes the strategic and political failures of the Bolivian right. He has tried and failed to be elected three times now, yet he refuses to step aside and let others within his party stand. An oligarch who owns a cement and hotel empire, as well as the Burger King and Subway franchise in the country. After being rejected by the other sections of the opposition as too toxic, hes building an alliance with Ruben Costas, the separatist mayor of Santa Cruz, responsible for almost plunging the country into civil war in 2009.

The political landscape is more hostile this time around. The shift to the right in Latin America has emboldened right-wing grounds across borders. The fact Evo is running for a third term after rejecting the results of a popular referendum has taken a toll.

Despite the difficult terrain, it is still likely that Evo will win in 2019 due to the economic bonanza the country has witnessed and the opposition's inability to form a united front. Bolivians will have to choose between two types of continuity. One of privatizations, austerity, economic crisis and repression that characterized the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s or a fourth Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) government, which has proven nationalization and poverty reduction are possible without hampering economic growth.

The nationalization of strategic sectors, like gas, telecommunications, and utilities has provided the government the revenue necessary to launch massive social programs and expand infrastructure. Even now that commodity prices are low, the economy is still growing at a faster pace than anywhere else in South America, including neoliberal Colombia and Argentina, while boasting the largest foreign-exchange reserves as a guarantee against devaluations and possible inflation.

Evos party is also by far the best organized for these elections. They registered over 1 million supporters for the primaries while opposition parties are in the tens of thousands. This is partly because MAS isn't a traditional party but rather a coalition of social movements, including Campesinos and trade unions, who seek participation in structures of power and policymaking, forming what they refer to as a "popular democracy."

The January 2019 primaries will give an indication of the balance of power. For now, according to IPSOS poll, Morales has a 14-point lead over Mesa but remains far from a first-round victory.

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