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Bolivia - Politics

PeriodHead of GovernmentNature of GovernmentSource of AuthorityOutcome of Government
1971-78Hugo Banzer SuárezMilitaryCoup d'étatCoup d'état
1978Juan Pereda AsbúnMilitaryCoup d'étatCoup d'état
1978-79David Padilla ArancibiaMilitaryCoup d'étatResigned
1979Walter Guevara ArzeCivilianElected by CongressCoup d'état
1979Alberto Natusch BuschMilitaryCoup d'étatForced to Resign
1979-80Lidia Gueiler Tejada CivilianElected by CongressCoup d'état
1980-81Luis García Meza TejadaMilitaryCoup d'étatResigned
1981Celso Torrelio Villa,
Waldo Bernal Pereira,
Oscar Pammo Rodríguez
MilitaryNamed by García MezaResigned
1981-82Celso Torrelio VillaMilitaryNamed by military juntaResigned
1982Guido Vildoso CalderónMilitaryNamed by armed forcesResigned
1982-85Hernán Siles ZuazoCivilianElected by CongressForced to call early elections
1985-89Víctor Paz EstenssoroCivilianElected by CongressCompleted term
1989-93Jaime Paz ZamoraCivilianElected by CongressCompleted term
1993-97Gonzalo “Goni” Sanchez de LozadaCivilianElected by CongressCompleted term
1997-2001Gen. Hugo BanzerCivilianElected by Congressresigned due to health
2001-02Jorge QuirogaCiviliansucceeded BanzerCompleted term
2002-03Gonzalo “Goni” Sanchez de LozadaCivilianElected by Congressresigned
2003-05Carlos Mesa Gisbert Civiliansucceeded Sanchez de Lozadaresigned
2005Eduardo RodriguezCivilianassumed officeCompleted term
2005-2024Juan Evo Morales Ayma Civilianelected by popular votein office

While economic growth has been positive throughout the last decade Bolivia remains one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Much of the population lives in poverty and the country faces serious economic and social challenges. Bolivia is a producer of coca and cocaine. Bolivia is a constitutional, multi-party republic with an elected president and a bicameral legislature.

On December 18, 2005, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) candidate Juan Evo Morales Ayma was elected to the presidency by 54% of the voters. Morales won the December 2005 election by convincing, not only the poor and the indigenous to vote for him, but also a majority of the middle-class.

On 24 February 2010 Evo Morales won a landslide re-election victory in the presidential vote. Morales was elected to a third term in October 2014. His government is pursuing a constitutional amendment through a February 2016 referendum to allow Morales to run for a fourth term in 2019.

On 15 December 2006 the four departments that make up the eastern lowlands (half-moon states), Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, and Pando, held large scale outdoor assemblies (cabildo in Spanish) to support departmental autonomy and the two-thirds vote in the constituent assembly (CA). Opposition and government figures estimate that more than one million people attended, including 800,000 in Santa Cruz. This figure represents more than ten percent of Bolivia's nine million population. The assemblies were peaceful, with the exception of rioting when assembly supporters outside of Santa Cruz tried to cross a road blockade and were attacked by MAS sympathizers. All four assemblies were carefully managed by departmental and civic leaders so as to avoid mention of independence.

To celebrate the one year anniversary of their vote in favor of "autonomy" large crowds gathered in the department capitals of Bolivia's four eastern departments on 02 July 2007. Each of the four departments also unveiled their unilaterally formulated "Autonomy Statutes." The statutes, essentially draft constitutions, if enacted would give the departmental governments vastly expanded powers, many of which are currently handled by the central government. The Santa Cruz statute calls for a directly elected executive and legislative assembly. Under Bolivian law there was no legislative branch at the departmental level. The most controversial feature in the Santa Cruz statute would grant the department government the power to regulate internal migration, a proposal that received much government criticism. In a clear attempt to defuse the controversy that pitted departmental autonomy against indigenous autonomy, Santa Cruz Prefect Costas and the leaders of five indigenous groups signed a "social and political pact" defending both forms of autonomy.

The constitution allows a president two consecutive terms in office. Morales was first elected in 2006 and then again in 2009. The constitutional term limit was adopted in 2009. In 2013 the Supreme Court decreed his 2006-09 period in office should not be counted as a first term as it preceded the adoption of the constitution.

On 24 February 2010 Evo Morales won a landslide re-election victory in the presidential vote. The election followed the ratification of the constitutional amendment earlier in the year that allowed Morales to run for another term. Unofficial results showed Mr. Morales taking at least 63 percent of the votes, more than 35 percentage points ahead of his closest challenger, former governor Manfred Reyes. Analysts said the victory means he will likely continue leftist reforms aimed at greater government control over the economy and social spending programs for the poor.

Bolivian voters also chose a new Congress. Unofficial results showed President Morales' Movement Toward Socialism party easily winning a majority in both Bolivia's Senate and lower house. Morales would have the numbers in Congress to pass legislation without negotiating with the opposition. During his first term in office, Morales increased state control over Bolivia's mining and energy sectors. A strong economy and social programs are cited as the basis of popular support for the 50-year-old former coca farmer.

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government did not always respect these rights. The government used the antiracism law to restrict both rights, and some media outlets reported the government pressured them to report favorably about its policies. Some members of the press also alleged that government officials verbally harassed individual journalists and intimidated media outlets perceived to be critical of the government. There were reports of violence and harassment against members of the press corps. There were also allegations that government officials targeted and harassed media outlets perceived to be critical of the government.

While most demonstrations were peaceful, occasionally demonstrators carried weapons, including clubs, machetes, firearms, and dynamite. Security forces (police and on occasion the military) at times dispersed protest groups carrying weapons or threatening government and private facilities. There are no undue restrictions on political parties, but some opposition political leaders alleged the government’s charges against some elected officials and opposition political leaders were politically motivated.

Bolivia is prone to social unrest that includes violence. Given the country's reliance on a few key thoroughfares, conflict often disrupts transportation and distribution networks. The majority of civil disturbances are related to domestic issues, usually workers pressuring the government for concessions by marching or closing major transportation arteries. There has been little to no political violence targeted towards foreigners.

The rate of conflict grew substantially in 2013 due to protests over government infrastructure projects, salary increase or the second yearly bonus, and the draft of the new mining law. While protests and blockades are frequent, they only periodically affect commerce. Less than a half-dozen conflicts in La Paz directly affected distribution of essential services or travel in and out of the city for periods greater than 24 hours during 2013.

In 2013 the Supreme Court decreed his 2006-09 period in office should not be counted as a first term as it preceded the adoption of the 2009 constitution, which allows a president two consecutive terms in office. President Evo Morales would run for re-election in October 2014, the vice president of the ruling party said on 14 July 2014. President Morales' left-wing economic policy had been blended with nationalist rhetoric and a focus on indigenous rights and the environment. Despite averaging five-percent growth each year under the Morales' government, Bolivia remained one of the poorest countries in South America.

On 12 October 2014 Bolivian President Evo Morales declared victory in his bid for a third five-year term in office. Exit polls showed Morales winning about 60 percent of Sunday's vote. His closest challenger, businessman Samuel Doria Medina, had 24 percent. But the ruling Movement Toward Socialism party appeared to have failed to retain the two-thirds control of Congress needed to push through its agenda.

Regional and communal votes have seen "Movement toward Socialism" MAS candidates losing important offices. Morales must also be wary of losing more supporters should an economic downturn forecast through 2017 balloon into a crisis. His proponents have become fewer as people begin to believe that Evo Morales' politics are neither intended for all Bolivians nor for all Indigenous peoples. The Bolivian National Assembly approved 16 January 2016 the decision to probe former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada over “prejudicial contracts to the State, anti-economic behavior and unfulfillment of duty,” the Congress presidency said. Sanchez de Lozada, who was a fugitive from Bolivia’s justice system was living in the United States since he was accused in 2006 for violation of human rights. He was governing Bolivia during the privatization of various state-run companies, particularly the railway firm ENFE in 1995.

Sanchez Lozada was accused of having under-sold the state shares for an amount of US$13 million, while its value was estimated to reach US$29 million. Lawmakers approved a report issued by the legislative commission of justice, which was issued after a year investigation into the capitalization and privatizations of public companies carried out between 1990-2001.

The Bolivian constitution allowed for the President and Vice-President to run for re-election only one time. In September 2015, the Plurinational Legislative Assembly (Asamblea Legislativa Plurinacional) adopted Law 757 to convene a referendum to remove the presidential and vice-presidential term limits. If the referendum is approved, President Evo MORALES and Vice-President Álvaro GARCÍA Linera would be allowed to run for re-election in 2019.

Bolivians held a national referendum 21 February 2016 to decide whether a two-term limit for presidents and vice presidents should be amended. In order to be adopted, at least 50% of valid votes must be cast in favor of the referendum provision, and at least 50% of the electorate must participate in the referendum.

Allowing Morales to win a third term — as he almost certainly would — was too much for the opposition, whom Morales' administration is accusing of launching a smear campaign against him. Social media users and opposition groups in Bolivia launched a coordinated campaign on social media in efforts to undermine the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, leading up to the country’s national referendum. President Morales denied all the allegations.

In early February 2016 President Morales revealed that in 2007 he had a child that died shortly after it was born. Shortly after the announcement, rumors circulated via online media outlets accusing President Morales of having provided his ex-partner, Gabriela Zapata, with favors as a result of their personal connection. Morales’ ex-partner, Gabriela Zapata, faced allegations of influence-peddling for the Chinese company CAMC Engineering of which she was commercial director. Morales denied that CAMCE is undertaking any influence-peddling with Chinese companies.

Exit polls showed Morales lost the vote. An Ipsos poll had the "no" side at 52.3 percent and "yes" at 47.7 percent, while a Mori poll gave a narrower 51 percent to 49 percent lead to the "no." Early official results had the "no" side winning with 66 percent of votes, although that covered only 3 percent of returns.

Morales said the right-wing opposition was celebrating too early by saying he was defeated in the referendum. The leader called on his supporters to be patient and wait for the final results. He also praised the participation of people in rural areas, since they are committed to defend the revolutionary process in Bolivia. Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera warned that the preliminary results of the country’s national referendum, showing a narrow lead for the “No” vote, are likely to change as the remote and isolated communities where the ruling party enjoys the most support are taken into the consideration in the official vote count.

A final tally of the referendum gave the "no" side 51.3 percent of the vote and the "yes" side's 48.7 percent. On 24 February 2016 Bolivian President Evo Morales acknowledged defeat. Morales said he would respect the will of the people. "We lost a democratic battle but not the war," the leftist leader said, blaming the loss on discrimination and a smear campaign or "dirty war" by the right-wing opposition.

Historically one of South America's most unstable countries, Bolivia enjoyed relative prosperity and calm since Morales came to power. Whether Evo Morales has a chance to win a re-election in 2019 is more than unclear. In 2013, the Venezuelan regime was able to gain a majority of the vote, despite disastrous economic policies. Between now and 2019, a lot can happen.





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